For Some Collegiate School Students, Recent Terrorist Attacks Hit Close to Home

Dec 2, 2015

Although recent international terrorist attacks have shocked the world, they’ve had little impact on the day-to-day lives of most Virginians. But for one private school outside of Richmond, incidents of global terrorism have hit close to home. 

The Collegiate School.

Collegiate School's manicured campus in Richmond's suburbs seems worlds away from the streets of Paris and the neighborhoods of Beirut, but step inside Rhiannon Boyd's classroom and the distance shrinks.

This group of seniors is talking about the recent Parisian terrorist attacks that killed 130, and the bombings in Beirut that killed more than 40 the day before.

While it's heavy stuff for high-schoolers, this class can't avoid it, because they have friends in both places.

Boyd asks one of her students to read an email she received recently.

“Dear Katie, I am so sorry to hear that the Collegiate community has been affected by the attacks in Paris,” she reads out to the class. "All of us here are sending our thoughts and condolences to you and your classmates."

A student at Collegiate's partner school in France lost his family in the Paris bombings. And this email is from a teacher in Beirut at another partner school. Katie reads on.

"We are also still recovering from the bombings in Beirut, and trying to figure out the best way to support our friends and colleagues from the camp,” she says. "The bombs struck very near the children’s education program, but thankfully it seems none of the students or staff were hurt.”

While this email is the first official communication they've received, many of these students have already heard from their Lebanese friends who, just months ago were visiting Collegiate’s campus for a conference for emerging international leaders. Boyd says she's been amazed at the use of the technology to stay in touch.

“They have social media in common,” Boyd says.” They’re able to kind of group text what’s happening in their lives, and sometimes that’s class is boring today, and sometimes that’s 'I’m safe.'”

Collegiate students videochat with students from their partner school in Beirut.

But since the bombings class has been anything but boring. It’s been part world history, part current events, part group counseling.

“At the end of the day we’re processing this too, so it’s very difficult to lead a conversation when you aren’t sure you understand the nature of the problem either,” says Boyd.

Boyd’s co-teacher Clare Sisisky says it’s been important to be vulnerable about their own attempts to process everything.

"We the teachers, we don’t have the answer, but also wrestling with that openly with the students models that for them,” says Sisisky.

Today, the class dives deep into a discussion about why their friends, family and the media all seemed to care more about the bombings in Paris than Beirut.

“Connections aside, I think we need to accept kind of an ugly truth, but myself, Collegiate and maybe most of the US will grieve more for a white Christian face than one that we don’t know, and one that might be middle-eastern, Lebanese for example. And I think that’s something that’s kind of sad,” comments one student during discussion.

Sisisky probes further into that idea.

“Let me ask you guys this, do you feel that, in this case, in our experience, that that’s ringing true for you in terms of feeling more connected and more similar and having a stronger bond with the French students than the Lebanese students?"

Around the room, students shake their head, one girl speaks up.

“Like they’re not different. While they live farther away from us than the people in Paris do,” she says. "They’re the same kids who do the same things.”

It’s the kind of lesson that any teacher or parent would love to have their children learn, just never quite like this.