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Julia de la Torre: Building Global Citizens

When people ask me what it’s like to be a high school principal, they usually have visions of students waiting outside my office because they’re in trouble. It’s the Ferris Bueller representation of schools. edblog

When I step back to reflect on the reality, I can think of nothing further from the truth. A typical day for me at Greenhills consists of fun conversations with prospective families, friendly exchanges with students in the halls, advisory lunch with my 12th graders, and professional conversations with teachers about their lessons. Perhaps the best part of my day, though, is the 46 minutes I get to spend teaching Global Citizenship.

I designed this course when I joined Greenhills last year as a way to not only bring global issues to our students, but to engage them in what it means to be changemakers in an increasingly complex global community. On a daily basis in class, we are wrestling with some pretty dire topics: global poverty, mortality rates, and the degradation of our natural environment, to name a few. But instead of focusing on all that is wrong in the world, we spend our daily class time looking at solutions and examples of everyday leaders who take risks to make global change. For anyone who has spent time watching the news or reading the paper, we understand all too well that global events could plunge us into a state of pessimistic ramblings. The goal of this class, though, is to leverage the inherent optimism in our students and turn it into inspiration to make change in our lives, now and in the future.

Every day I leave my class inspired and, quite frankly, relieved that our future is in the hands of such smart, critically-minded, and empathetic kids. By way of example, this week was one of those weeks when I just felt like my students were nailing it…every day. Monday was the International Day of Happiness (yes, it’s a thing!). These 17-year olds were game for a day full of happy activities. We ate brownie sundaes, they wore paper crowns with pride, and they blew bubbles with such glee, you’d think we all stepped back into toddlerhood. They were able to carry that joy with them as we talked about Dr. Paul Farmer, the Harvard Medical School physician who founded Partners In Health, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a preferential health care option to the poor. We explored the concept of health care as a human right, learning from Dr. Farmer’s example of what it takes to turn a crazy idea for a medical clinic and turn it into a global health care model that is saving millions of lives.

See photos from Global Citizenship class here

The next day, students were tasked with “building a village” from the ground up, solving social inequality and providing the ideal community of resources to address what so many of us take for granted–quality health care. They molded schools and clinics out of clay, they mapped out farms and libraries, and they built wind turbines and public transportation systems all aimed at improving communities.

Today, we turned our attention to the environment, kicking off the new unit with a silent discussion and gallery walk. Students looked at images from photographer and activist Chris Jordan, whose powerful images bring to life some of the most staggering statistics related to resource consumption and waste. By the end of class, students were talking not only about changes they want to make to their own consumption habits, but what they could do to petition local leaders or businesses to consider changing their practices.

The joy that comes from watching students build arguments, respectfully challenge each other’s views, and generate ideas for making the world better is a pretty powerful thing. For anyone who imagines Ferris Bueller playing hooky when they think of a typical high school student, I urge you to sit and chat with any of my Global Citizenship students. I guarantee it will be the best 46 minutes of your day.

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.