Teaching Students to Thrive in an Interconnected World
By Laura Raines
Education has moved well beyond basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Global initiatives are a growing trend in many Atlanta schools. These programs introduce students to different cultures and different ways of thinking. They expand their horizons by offering opportunities to travel to other countries. And they immerse students in different languages, which is becoming more and more important in our multilingual world. By doing so, they provide today’s students with the skills they’ll need to thrive as adults in an increasingly global society and marketplace.
The IB Method
One widely recognized way of connecting students with the wider world is the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, a globally recognized leader in the field of international education.
The International Baccalaureate is a nonprofit organization that offers a rigorous academic program for students, with a focus on global education. IB students are encouraged to ask challenging questions, develop a strong sense of their own identity and culture, and learn to communicate with people from other countries and cultures.
“The world has grown much smaller in the last 20 to 30 years,” says Curtis Douglass, principal of North Atlanta High School in Buckhead, which has taught the IB curriculum since 1982. “Our task is to prepare students for college and careers, and today that means giving them a global perspective. Even if they don’t leave Atlanta for college or work, they are going to interact with people from many different cultures in their lives.”
The IB approach helps students to become active learners and engaged world citizens, and helps them develop lifelong critical thinking skills, Douglass says. About 38 percent of North Atlanta’s juniors and seniors are IB students.
The IB curriculum is trans-disciplinary, meaning that students learn to carry skills and knowledge from one subject to the next, and to value what others bring to the table, according to Kevin Glass, headmaster of the Atlanta International School (AIS) an independent school located in Buckhead.
Preparing students to make a positive difference in the world, Glass says, requires more than IQ and emotional intelligence. “It requires cultural intelligence—meaning the ability to understand and empathize with complex cultures with diplomacy and tact.”
Learning a Foreign Language
“International” refers to both the mission and the population of AIS. The students and staff represent 90 different nationalities and speak 64 different languages. In fact, AIS believes that language is the key to all learning. AIS immerses its preschool students in Spanish, French or German. The primary curriculum is taught in dual-language tracks: English with French, German or Spanish in the primary grades.
“This stimulating, language-rich environment allows students to think, dream and learn in two languages,” Glass says.
Woodward Academy, an independent school with campuses in College Park and Johns Creek, requires two years of a foreign language, and offers beginning-to-advanced classes in French, Spanish, Latin, German, Japanese and Chinese.
The school is a pioneer in giving its students access to international language exams, like the French DELF B-2, which proves their language proficiency to study or work in that language. “That’s a credential that will make our students stand out with international colleges or companies,” says Stéphane Allagnon, director of the international and global connections program.
International Travel Programs
Another key aspect of developing a global perspective in students is to introduce them to different places and cultures. One way schools do this is to host foreign exchange programs, in which students are sent to study in another country. Woodward Academy accepts a number of foreign exchange students each year, placing them with a host family and mainstreaming them into middle- or high-school classes.
Students at Woodward and AIS also enjoy the opportunity to study abroad in several countries. Woodward has opened its doors to visiting student groups from China and France, and takes its students on trips abroad. This summer, the chorus will tour France and Switzerland, singing in French.
Woodward students have also studied Shakespeare in England, and environmental science in Costa Rica and Ecuador. “We want them to connect travel and learning, to understand and experience the world, to touch its people, so that they’ll be better world citizens,” Allagnon says. “Next year, we’ll be offering an international seal for students who take courses with more international content, and we plan to have an international diploma in several years.”
“Travel is educational,” says Aris Michelsen, director of global intelligence and languages at Brandon Hall School, a small, independent college-prep school in Sandy Springs. She’s seen it reduce fear and prejudice and instill more confidence in her students, she says, adding that her personal motto is, “Don’t ever turn down a trip.”
Brandon Hall was the only school from Georgia to attend the EF Global Student Leaders Summit in China last year. “We choose one country each year and weave its history and culture into all our classes,” she says. “That culminates in a trip for some of our students. In recent years, we’ve wanted those trips to serve a greater purpose, so we chose the summit in China. We’re doing a service trip to India, and next year we’ll attend the Global Student Leader Summit in Dubai that addresses world energy issues.”
Michelsen, who has taught other teachers about educational travel programs, says that global initiatives are growing by leaps and bounds in many U.S. schools. “International competition is growing more challenging, and we’re doing all that we can to prepare our students to think outside the box and across boundaries.”