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ASAC Founder’s Article in GLOBAL EDUCATION MAGAZINE

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Instilling Global Citizenship Within the International School Network

Published on December 10, 2013 in Global Education Magazine:

One of the hot trends in education today is “promoting global citizenship,” but this somewhat amorphous cause can often be as difficult to achieve as it is to define. Being a global citizen goes well beyond simply traveling on the international stage or living an expatriate lifestyle; it refers to a more holistic view of the world, understanding the commonalities we share and recognizing our responsibility to help our fellow man and safeguard our planet’s future.

The multi-cultural setting of international education lends itself to a more natural development of global citizenship. From this starting point, there exist different approaches to developing this global awareness, such as: 1) curriculum design which embraces themes of awareness, empathy and a more holistic educational approach; 2) the use of technology that fosters connections between classrooms and destinations around the world; 3) social action projects that use service-based learning to create a deeper awareness of global issues; and 4) extra-curricular projects that offer a variety of tools to promote global citizenship.globepass

Firstly, one of the most prominent forms of cultivating this awareness is by creating a scholastic curriculum around its encompassing ideals. The Academy for Global Citizenship, a highly-acclaimed Chicago charter school, has based an entire scholastic approach on “environmental stewardship, holistic wellness and a global perspective.” A similar approach has been adopted within international schools like Yokohama International School, where the Former Head of School James MacDonald implemented the innovative “Global Citizenship Degree” which allows students an opportunity to do extra-curricular activities in order to obtain a supplementary degree upon graduation. Beyond these school-wide approaches, teachers can develop ways to link their existing curriculum with these principles of global awareness. This requires them to seek underlying lessons that can be drawn from course materials and classroom activities. For example, a geography class on desertification can be expanded to include the testimony of people who have been forced to flee their villages due to the lack of grass for their animals to graze and water for them to drink. When students recognize the human impact of an issue, they become more engaged in the learning process and start to develop this awareness we are hoping to inspire.

The second tool that can be used to advance these ideals is through the use of digital technology. For years, sites have offered classrooms the opportunity to link up with other classrooms in order to learn about each other’s cultures and countries, but the current trend is to take these partnerships beyond the traditional “what is life like in your country?” model. Nowadays, partner schools can research social issues afflicting our planet and then propose and carry out concrete plans of action to create positive change. In some cases, the partner schools team up to address a local issue afflicting one of the schools, while other programs unite the schools to address more global issues. There are also a number of web-based programs that connect classrooms around the world to foster a cultural exchange. Projects like this can be carried gloout on a class-by-class basis or can be implemented on a school-wide level. Two of the most innovative programs are iEarn (International Education and Resource Network) and TIGed (TakingITGlobal for Educators); each connect schools around the world to global issues and provide a framework for collaborative projects that expose students to global issues and hands-on solutions. For those teachers or administrators interested in exploring these options, I would also recommend taking a look at Challenge 20/20, Adobe Youth Voices and Shout Initiative (run through Microsoft’s Partners in Learning).

Another strategy to foster students’ sense of empowerment is by engaging them in social action projects. Partnering with local non-profits is an excellent way to not only impact the community, but to engage students in fostering positive change. Research shows that this model of “service learning” benefits students in many ways. First of all, young people experience a greater sense of self-efficacy as they see firsthand what a positive impact they can make. Meanwhile, they develop ideals of empathy and compassion which cultivates community development and nurtures global citizenship that lasts long beyond high school. Involvement in these projects has also proven to increase academic achievement as students learn problem-solving skills, how to plan activities and important team-work abilities. Many of today’s leaders in public service point out how their formative experiences volunteering or engaging in community service helped form the civic engagement skills that has defined who they are today. This just goes to show the deep impact that service learning can have as international schools seek to foster global citizenship.

Just as important as the effect upon the school and the students is the impact on the individuals benefiting from these community-based programs. After all, these recipients – be they elderly, hospitalized, deaf, mentally-challenged or poor – are the reason students, teachers, parents and community leaders mobilize their efforts. It is heart-warming to see how community members take a fresh look at the youth of the community once they see them lending their assistance. When I took a group of at-risk high-school boys from the inner-city of Chicago to volunteer at a homeless shelter, numerous residents commended the boys, telling them “It’s so great to see you all in here helping people instead of being out on the street gang-banging.” For most of the boys, this was the first time they had been in a position to lend a hand to someone in need and I could see their self-awareness and self-worth skyrocket before my very eyes.

In order to achieve a meaningful service learning project, there are a few guidelines that should be followed. First of all, the project must be based on real community needs. Just because kids are learning about deforestation does not mean they should be out there planting trees if their efforts could be better applied addressing a more urgent concern. Service learning projects should be focused on the priorities of the community; remember, the lessons of empathy and productiveness students take away is often more important than the exact issue being addressed! Secondly, the young people must have active and meaningful leadership roles. Too often, teachers have designed these projects in a top-down manner and told kids, “Okay, today we will go clean up trash on the beach.” When students can study the issue first, then brainstorm for ideas and propose solutions on their own, they take a lot more from the experience and display much more enthusiasm in making it a success. Active and structured reflection is another integral component; the more the students can really think about the issue and their role in helping, the more profound the lesson will be. A fourth component I have discovered to be a key in effectiveness is showing a sustained commitment over time. Sure, one-day visits to an elderly home are beneficial to everyone involved, but when this collaboration lasts over the course of the school year and students establish a rapport with the people they are assisting, they often look for deeper ways to help and take away more from the experience.

glo2Since it has been established that projects like this help foster this global awareness we are so keen on instilling, the next question is how to go about designing a project like this. Though some of the on-line resources listed above provide a good framework, it is quite possible to establish an effective program without relying on digital technology. In many cases, the most important step is finding a reputable partner organization. By speaking with community leaders, parents and students themselves, schools can locate efficiently-run community-based projects to partner with. Most local organizations or non-profits are keen to partner with schools if they realize that such a collaboration allows them the opportunity to deepen their impact by engaging young and motivated students to help support their mission. Partner organizations I have worked with have benefited from the new energy and enthusiasm that young volunteers bring, especially when they are able to capitalize upon the unique abilities each young person brings. Involvement with an international school also helps these organizations increase their public profile; sometimes these projects work in the exact neighborhood of these schools, but were unrecognized until someone within the school proposed a partnership, resulting in increased visibility for the project within the community.

My non-profit, The Cause & Affect Foundation, has served as partner organization for several schools projects and through these experiences, I have learned some valuable lessons that are applicable in this context. First of all, choose one specific issue to focus your efforts on. Designing a campaign around “saving the environment” may look good on paper but unless kids really understand exactly what is the issue and how their involvement will improve the problem, most will not be interested. Secondly, introduce the issue to students in the most engaging manner possible. A field visit is ideal, but if this is not possible, photos and videos are imperative in sparking an emotional connection with students. As they say, “An image is worth a thousand words.” Thirdly, involve the students in brainstorming for a solution and proposing a plan of action. When teachers march in and say, “We are going to help a local homeless shelter. I need everyone to bring in ten cans of food,” the student gets nothing out of the experience and sees the effort as another empty assignment. But if they visit the shelter first or watch videos about life on the street and are then asked to brainstorm for ways to help these people, they will be a lot more active (and ultimately, more successful) in their efforts.

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If you partner with a local non-profit or an outside organization like Cause & Affect, be sure to lay out what is expected from each partner and make it clear that your school requires some sort of field visit or video report to present to the students so they can see the fruits of their labor. I produce “field report” videos and then post them to You Tube so students can watch them in school and also share them with their parents and friends. Even if they do not get to deliver the aid firsthand, they can take pride in knowing they played a role in the project.

Lastly, make sure that students realize that the project undertaken is just one example of how they can be proactive in helping the health of our planet or the well-being of a family on the other side of the planet. It is important they realize that each project can be replicated or expanded upon. This is where it can be helpful to highlight the work of an activist who has dedicated his/her life to an important cause. For example, I like to tell students about my personal hero and mentor, a retired school teacher from San Francisco named Marc Gold, because it was his person-to-person “micro-philanthropy” model that inspired me to pursue my own form of humanitarian work. I explain his approach (making small, targeted donations to directly improve the lives of those in need) to show students that all of us, as individuals, have the ability to cut across borders and backgrounds to improve the lives of people in need.main-shoestring-philanthropist-0

When highlighting the inspiring work of others, teachers should try to incorporate videos and live testimony as much as possible. When I saw Marc Gold, this little 5’4” sixty year-old man trudging through the garbage dumps of Cambodia, it made a lasting impression on me. When I show video of him to young students, I can see it has a similar effect. The fact that he distributed more than a million dollars to improve people’s lives taught me that yes, one person  can  make a difference. Global citizenship does not end when the school bell rings; it is an awareness that will direct their decisions for the rest of their lives!

The fourth approach to developing global citizenship within the international schools is on the extra-curricular level. Luckily, due to their resources international schools often have more opportunities to pursue globally-based projects on an extra-curricular level than public schools. Social Action Clubs are one of the most popular ways of cultivating student activism. The basic structure of a Social Action Club involves a teacher or administrator overseeing the club, first by seeking out students interested in becoming members. Obviously, the more engaging and dynamic the club activities and description, the more students it will attract. Once the club has been established, it is up to the teacher and students to decide their course of action. In general, they should choose an issue and as they begin their research, they should identify a specific problem within that general topic on which to focus. They can then identify stakeholders (those impacted by the issue) and go about assessing the needs and strengths of the community related to the issue, by first finding out what (if any) organizations are working on the same issue and how best to address the situation.

The next step is to assemble a team. Again, here it is often best to partner with other organizations or recruit friends to help. Students, working under the supervision of the club’s faculty member, can then design a project to their resources and draw upon their strengths. The most effective Social Action Clubs work under a direct action model in which the members decide a course of action and then create a plan to carry out a project. After the implementation of their action project, they should be encouraged to monitor and evaluate the effects. By keeping data, surveying participants, and tracking the results of the project, they are not only able to measure their success but also approach future projects in an effective, quantifiable manner.

supercuteBeyond Social Action Clubs, there are other extra-curricular options as well, such as the Global Issues Network (GIN) wherein schools create teams that address global issues and then attend regional conferences where they collaborate with each other in seeking solutions to these problems. Though the framework is similar to Model UN, GIN encourages a more hands-on approach, motivating schools to pair with local non-profits and apply their activism in tangible ways outside of the school structure.

As we have learned, global citizenship is not just a buzzword within present-day education circles, but is a worldwide phenomenon that is changing the way people think about the world and their place in it. As educators, we must help instill in our students their interconnectedness with the world and their responsibility to act to improve it. When addressing students, our personal experiences can be a great departure point for planting the seed, but we must look to some of the tools described above to properly instill this invaluable consciousness in our students. Once they develop this awareness, they will excel as students and more importantly, will add value to the world and the communities in which they live. The effects are yet to be seen, but it is already glaringly obvious that by creating global citizens, we are helping give rise a better world.

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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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