Global Citizenship: The Most Essential 21st Century Skill

In the 15 years since Thomas Friedman declared that the world is flat, the forces he described have only grown stronger. Technology has improved. Businesses have outsourced, insourced, and offshored countless jobs. Distances have shrunk, psychologically if not geographically. Companies, from the largest global megacorporations to shoestring startups, regularly work across borders and time zones without blinking an eye.

All signs point towards these trends continuing, and so schools must include global citizenship as a core value, if students are going to become the leaders and workforce the 21st century demands. Forward-thinking schools around the world are leading the way in cultivating global citizens. Their experiences prove instructive for other schools who wish to give their students the skills they will need to thrive in a world where everyday actions can have an impact a world away.

Wareham High School

While global citizenship programs are proliferating around the country and around the world, it is nothing new at Wareham High School. The district has been running programs since the 1970s designed to expose students to new places, cultures, and peoples. In fact, Geena Davis, perhaps the district’s most notable alumni, was an exchange student in Sandviken, Sweden, during her high school years.

Exchange students, both foreign and domestic, are a common sight in the halls of Wareham’s schools. Not only do many students from Wareham travel abroad during their school days, a steady stream of foriegn students rotate in and out of Wareham’s homes and classrooms. Some students stay for as little as a few days or weeks, but others stay for an entire year. Many families will host an exchange student and then send one of their children to stay with the exchange student’s family, creating deep and lasting bonds than span continents and generations.

“It really opens their eyes and broadens their minds,” says Maureen Manning, the district’s director of global education. While Manning is responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the program, she makes decisions in conjunction with a community-based committee that helps to run the program. The committee is comprised of teachers, parents, and even members of the community with no other ties to the school.

Each year a number of exchange students return home with a Wareham High School diploma, and every student at the school gains a greater understanding of the world around them.

Revere High School

In Revere, Massachusetts, a community with a large number of immigrant, Hispanic, and low income students, administrators used a discretionary grant to send 15 students to a Model G20 summit.   The school then helped students fundraise their way to a second Model G20 summit in Beijing, China.

At the summits they interacted with peers from around the globe, attended lectures led by professors from Harvard and MIT, and participated in workshops and simulations designed to give them the skills they will need in the 21st century.  None of it would have been possible without a commitment from their educational leaders to prepare students to take part in a globalized workforce.

Norwood High School

At Norwood High School, the school offers not only a Global Citizenship Club, but an entire global citizenship certificate program.  There, they rightly note that “the demands and the opportunities of the 21st century challenge our students to learn and to think in new ways.”

This year, 17 students will be recognized at graduation when they are awarded their global citizenship program certificates along with their diplomas. These students have gone above and beyond the regular requirements for graduation, including taking four years of another language, maintaining a B average or better in their global coursework, traveling globally (or, if that is not possible, hosting an exchange student or other similar activity), and conducting a service learning project where a global issue is addressed locally.

The program has been such a success over the last decade that it recently won an Exemplary Projects Award from The Goldin Foundation for Excellence in Education. With the results the program has produced, it is easy to see why. Alumni regularly return to the school to help with one of the ongoing service projects or to speak of how taking part in the program has informed their college careers and future plans.

Jennifer Orlinski, one of the teachers who serves as a volunteer leader of the program, says she does so because “it is what is best for the kids.” After all, she notes, “If we don’t get kids involved in doing what’s best for the planet then we are all doomed.”

As the world grows smaller, every school needs to inculcate global citizenship among their students if they are to succeed in the 21st century. These three schools offer instructive models how how this can happen, but the possibilities are endless.

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