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Chicago Charter School Offers New Model for Global Citizenship

The Academy for Global Citizenship is an innovative Chicago Public Charter School, located on the underserved Southwest side of Chicago. Their holistic approach to education aims to foster systemic change and inspire the way society educates our future generations.Image
We sat down with Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, the Founder and Executive Director to see how her vision has manifested itself in terms of creating young global citizens in a rough urban environment.
 
-Hello Sarah and thanks for participating in ASAC’s blog here. Since ASAC was developed to assist International Schools design and implement their own Social Action Strategies, can you briefly summarize AGC Chicago’s approach? What are the guiding principles and how is it put into action?
 
Great. Thanks. At the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), we are fostering environmental stewardship, holistic wellness and a global perspective in our 350 students as well as our broader community. This is achieved through concept-driven units of inquiry such as “From Farm to Table” or “Our Global Impact,” wherein environmental, local and international themes are explored within the context of the core curriculum: literacy, science, math, technology and social studies.  
 
AGC is located on Chicago’s industrial southwest side in an area where access to quality public education, healthy foods and resources can be a challenge for many families. We are therefore also committed to serving as a community hub for sustainability, health and internationalism. 
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We invite parents, community members, local authorities and local leaders in social change to contribute to the conversation by volunteering, speaking to our students, hosting or chaperoning a field trip, or getting involved in one of our many annual community events. We serve breakfast, lunch and snack made only of whole, organic foods that nourish the bodies and brains of our students and staff. 
 
We are also positioning ourself as a laboratory for innovation in education. Since AGC has been recognized as a successful model, we are feeling a tremendous sense of urgency to extended this approach across the public education system. We are creating an open source model where our modules of innovation are both incubated and shared systemically; school districts across the country and schools around the world are already adopting elements of our approach. Our School Sustainability Handbook and step-by-step guide for educators, for instance, is available for free download on our website, www.agcchicago.org
 
– A lot of economic studies show that the “American dream” of easily climbing the socio-economic ladder is no longer a feasible reality. How did your students react to their White House visit and do you think students in the inner-city of Chicago still feel they could be President one day?
 
We have welcomed over 6,000 visitors over the past 5 years from all across the world, from politicians to oceanographers, and paleontologists to representatives from the White House, US Department of Agriculture and United Nations. All of these experiences provide our students with students with a “window to the world” and introduce to them a life of possibility. We work to model for our students the incredible potential within them and to help them to realize their potential by encouraging them to take responsibility and initiative: in the classroom, the garden, their communities, and ultimately the world. 
 
– The vast majority of your students are low-income minority students that are inmany ways marginalized socio-economically. How has your educational approach capitalized upon (or suffered from) this reality? 
 

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The Academy for Global Citizenship has neither “capitalized upon nor suffered” as a 
result of our 90% minority and 83% low-income student population. When we were developing the philosophy and framework for our community centered school, we knew we were interested in developing an approach that would be scalable across the district by transcending demographic differences. We researched neighborhoods across the city and conducted site visits, looking for an area where there was a need for quality public education, and an opportunity to make an impact on community nutrition and sustainability.  We have witnessed the success of AGC’s model in communities with different socio-economic and cultural needs.  We wholeheartedly believe that all students will benefit from a trans-disciplinary, experiential approach to education that addresses the need of the whole child and engages families along the way.
 
– With our focus on International Schools, I am curious what sort of feedback you received from your foreign visitors and whether they are now trying to emulate any of the innovative approaches implemented by AGC Chicago. 
 
We have been inspired to witness the tremendous interest in replicating aspects of our model in countries around the world – including Jordan, Colombia, Japan, Cyprus and South Africa.  As the world becomes increasingly concerned with the state of our planet, AGC’s School Sustainability Handbook has been adopted by schools across the globe as a mechanism for supporting a more environmentally minded generation. Our students also share their experiences and work on projects with our sister school students in Uganda, the Himalayas and Guatemala.   As an authorized International Baccalaureate School, we are part of a global network that includes collaboration and sharing best practices among schools in 138 countries.
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– What is the most effective way to schools around the world to “foster international awareness” amongst students that each live in their own little corner of the world? 
 
Simply put: exposure. The Academy for Global Citizenship’s students collaborate with students in five sister schools through Skype and video shares as part of their transdisciplinary units of study. Students launch projects together and see first hand how they are similar and how they are different; the effect of sharing their perspectives is incredible. We actively seek opportunities for our staff to travel and have had teachers lead their classrooms in Climate Change research from the Arctic, share their experiences with our students after returning from conservation trips to Fiji or permaculture projects in Cuba.  Our “placed based” philosophy of education focuses engaging with our local community in order to more effectively understand our role in the world; international experiences and perspectives represented among our staff support the broadening of our students’ world views.
 
– I notice you use video chats to communicate with schools in other countries. How did you find these partner schools? What is the framework of your sister school program? ASAC works with many International Schools, so is AGC Chicago interested in adding partner schools or participating in collaborative projects in the future?
 
We have developed many partnerships through Omprekash (http://omprakash.org/), an international service organization. We are able to facilitate trips abroad for teachers, administrative staff and parents through this site (some financial support is available) and while building bottle schools (http://hugitforward.org/), for instance, our AGC ambassadors are also developing longterm relationships. We are interested in developing this much further and have been discussing the possibility for student travel as we expand into middle school in the coming year.  We have also initiated globally collaborative partnerships through the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization, by which AGC is authorized as an IB World School.
 
-For an International School looking to improve their Social Action Strategy, what do you see as the most important first step or guiding principle?
 
The Academy for Global Citizenship’s mission is to foster mindful leaders who take action, now and in the future, to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. We are working towards this every moment of the day, it is in the way that we recruit teachers and staff, our school policies, our community engagement efforts and the way our teachers interact with students. With thoughtful leadership, guidance, and, most importantly, respect, our students develop the most exciting ideas for how they want to impact  their communities. These ideas are taken very seriously. For instance, our 4th graders last year were discussion scarcity of certain resources in global communities and were moved by the lack of resources in their own community to develop a clothing exchange and food pantry called “The Free Store.” Instead of pointing out how difficult it was to organize an initiative of this magnitude, teachers rearranged their lesson plans and made room in their schedule to make the most of her students motivation and inspiration. Teachers encouraged students to interview key stakeholders, including our administrative team, and led them through the process of developing a business model, which they presented to the entire Board of Directors. This thoughtful process demonstrates how the whole community contributes to and is galvanized by student social action initiatives.
 
Thanks to Sarah and the entire Academy for Global Citizenship staff for their inspirational work. More info can be found on their site
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