Two teachers from different sides of the world had an idea to bring modern technology from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs to students in Saipan—an island in the Western Pacific Ocean about 120 miles north of Guam.
“I didn’t know where Saipan was,” said Digital Media Studies Instructor Sean Wybrant. “I didn’t even know that Saipan was a commonwealth of the United States.”
Wybrant met Gerrard “Mr. G” Van Gills at a conference honoring educators. Wybrant is from Colorado and Van Gills teaches in Saipan. Both wanted to bring Virtual Reality technology to students about 6,000 miles away.
“From the first time I met Mr. Wybrant I was determined to bring those toys to the farthest corner of America,” said Gerrard.
“I want to get my kids and the kids in Saipan to believe that they can be the people that can create these sorts of experiences for a purpose,” said Wybrant. “To create a virtual reality museum experience that will help to highlight World War II wreck sites from the Battle of Saipan.”
"Right now I’m working on a museum layout where you can walk into a virtual reality space,” said Palmer High School senior Alex Garcia. “What we are planning to do is be able to go to the wreck sites in the ocean so people can have the experience of scuba diving but not really having to go into the water.”
Wybrant says the virtual reality museum that his students are creating is going to be put in a museum in Saipan.
“Part of the core of this project is getting our kids and their kids to work together and right now, their kids can’t… because their kids are in crisis,” said Wybrant.
The project was put on hold when the island of about 55,000 people was recently hit by Super Typhoon Yutu affecting buildings, water supplies and electricity.
“It was seven-plus hours of sustained winds of over 180 mph,” Van Gills said. “We lost many public schools, many thousands of kids lost all of their school.”
“The projects and what we do here is what gets them through the day,” Garcia said. “And that’s what empowers me to work harder and work faster.”
That collaboration is part of the reason why the school won the Succeeds Prize for Excellence in Technology Enabled Learning. The award was created in collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, 9NEWS, mindSpark Learning and the last three governors.
Together, they recently presented The Succeeds Prize awards to Colorado public schools and educators that showed innovation in education.
A total of $150,000 was awarded with the hope the winners will share their best practices with other schools in Colorado. A data-driven process was used to identify and recognize innovative public schools in Colorado.
“We have a lot of equipment in here right now that took a lot to get but now we have it [and] our responsibility then is to try and share with other people how we did it,” Wybrant said.
“All of these people are seeing virtual reality for the first time thanks to those students in Colorado and thanks to Mr. Wybrant,” said Van Gills.
Wybrant said he hopes projects like this will get students in Saipan introduced to new technology and hopes those students feel the support from a classroom in Colorado.
“I think sometimes it easy to lose sight of the struggles that other people have,” Wybrant said. “And part of the cool thing about this project is that we can pull kids from almost opposite sides of the world together in order to do something in a common space.”
For more information about The Succeeds Prize, go to TheSucceedsPrize.org.