Every year, the U.S. departments of State and Education jointly declare International Education Week, “an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.” To launch this year’s celebration, the DOE hosted a panel discussion and screening of the film, “Beyond the Wall,” about four DC teenagers’ journey to China and back.
The film follows the four high school students as they prepare, travel to China, struggle with the language, tour the country, meet residents of all ages, and face challenges upon their return to DC. The five-week, fully-funded study tour, organized by Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA), includes students from all over the U.S. DC participants — from Ballou, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Wilson senior highs — all hail from low-income neighborhoods where foreign travel is a rarity.
Monday’s discussion was moderated by Deputy Assistant Secretary Mohamed Abdel-Kader. Participants included Jeffrey Wood, who traveled to China in 2009; Pamela Bullock, Jeffrey’s mother; Stacy Yule, the teacher who recommended Jeffrey; and Sally Schwartz, who mentored Jeffrey and the other DC students.
Among topics raised during the panel discussion was the lack of resources supporting foreign language and global studies for these young people upon return to the States. None of the students’ schools offer Chinese language instruction, for example, and world language study varies hugely across DC Public Schools. While the city is filled with embassies, and many diplomats make an effort to share their language and culture with DC schools, programs are not consistent or available at many neighborhood schools. Moreover, many students who have studied abroad find it difficult to integrate their new perspectives with life in the city’s more isolated areas.
Abdel-Kader spoke of the importance of global education for the United States economy as a whole and for individuals seeking employment in the coming years. Meanwhile, however, Yule noted strong resistance to foreign language and global education programs in less affluent areas. There’s a presumption, she said, that “those programs are not for THESE students,” particularly as “drill and kill” dominates in schools seeking higher test scores. At the same time, she said, boredom and lack of relevancy contribute to high truancy rates.
Schwartz founded and directs DC’s Center for Global Education & Leadership (CGEL). This nonprofit works to mobilize the unique resources of the nation’s capital to support high quality, systemic, and equitably available global education for all DC public school students. Among its efforts helping DC public high school students take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. For this particular program, Schwartz works with DC teachers to find suitable candidates and mentors the selected students before and after their trips. Four years after their journey began, she is still in touch with Jeffrey, Peter, Juanique and Royelle who appear in the Beyond the Wall film.
Check back for more details on Monday’s panel discussion.
Listen for more on the Center for Global Education & Leadership and the Beyond the Wall film on a future Education Town Hall.
If you’re in the DC area, consider attending this program on Language Immersion in Urban Public Schools on December 4, 2014.
The Education Town Hall broadcasts from Historic Anacostia in Washington, DC, Thursdays at 11 Eastern on We Act Radio.
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