This article, by Head of Upper School Jenn Bensen, originally appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel.
As educators, we acknowledge that our world is complex, diverse, and changing at a rapid pace. And as a response, schools around the world have placed a growing focus on preparing students with the skills needed to compete in a future yet unknown. I would argue that at the core of this pursuit is the need to prepare students to be global citizens. A truly global citizen will be able to use the skills in his or her arsenal to succeed no matter the most popular industries, the political landscape or the region of the world they seek employment in after college graduation.
What does global citizenship look like in a secondary educational setting? We provide students with interdisciplinary coursework capable of exposing the world with a wide angle lens. We promote social justice experiences with immersion opportunities for students beyond the classroom. We challenge students to not just learn another language but to experience it, think in that language and reflect in that language. Cross-cultural, multilingual and interdisciplinary work provide the outline for true global citizenship. These pillars, amplified by passionate faculty, serve as a gateway for students who seek to deepen their understanding of place and purpose in our interconnected world.
At Sacred Heart Greenwich, we are part of a Network of Sacred Heart Schools in 44 different countries. Embarking on a cultural exchange affords students the ability to be immersed in culture and be surrounded by people who come from different traditions and thought. Unique to Sacred Heart, though, is that all the students are guided by the Goals & Criteria at their schools as well as a common study of faith. By stepping into an unfamiliar setting, students are instantly challenged to adapt, acclimate and assimilate. The students leverage their foriegn language skills as their primary language and develop rapidly in proficiency and depth of understanding.
Recently a student who traveled to our sister school in Spain recounted to me over email the highlights of her time abroad. She said, “Perhaps my most memorable experience in Madrid was meeting the amazing people there. My host, Elena, and her family were so hospitable and eager to expose me to their city, and the girls at Elena’s school, Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, went out of their way to welcome me. It was amazing to make new friends across the globe; I even saw one of the girls last week!” The relationships developed during these homestays are unlike any level of citizenship that can be taught in a classroom. These experiences are vital to student success.
Global studies have a home within the classroom too. A curriculum rich in course offerings ranging from comparative government to economics, human geography to contemporary issues all provide opportunities for students to deep dive into historical events that have shaped the world, see historical trends and stay up to speed with current events. As students learn to think widely and think beyond themselves, their focuses shift from that of passive observers to proactive leaders. Students are empowered to identify and act upon critical needs they encounter.
Service learning and social justice experiences take that concept of acting on critical needs and provide outlets to do so. For example, Students at Sacred Heart have the opportunity to explore life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota each summer. The rich heritage of the Lakota people is explored, studied and discussed alongside issues of poverty and addiction. Students are invited into the community of the Red Cloud Indian School and engage alongside students on the reservation. The tasks that students complete during the day are seemingly ordinary: they assist with classes, they play games, they help serve meals, and they enjoy recess together.
When asked to reflect on their experience, though, students immediately find themselves below the surface examining the underlying factors that have created the prominent dynamics witnessed on the reservation. Their critical thinking and analysis skills shine without prompting. Exposure to broad-based, global coursework and cultural immersion promote the core skills and competencies we as educators know will always be keys to future success for our students.
It’s not difficult for students to see beyond the “bubble” of Fairfield County with this unique combination of global coursework, service learning and cultural immersion. Experiential learning on a global scale fosters a consciousness in young adults–an open-mindedness, particularly with regard to the values and traditions of others, plus integrity and ethical decision-making skills. A natural by-product of this holistic approach? Students who stand ready to make their mark on the world.
Jennifer P. Bensen is the Head of Upper School at Sacred Heart Greenwich, an all-girls, independent Catholic school. Bensen graduated from Gettysburg College with a Bachelor of Arts degree and received her Master’s in education from the University of New England.