President's Corner

Are Our Students Ready for the Future?

by Sarah D. Jerome

This month’s issue of The School Administrator focuses on preparing our students to be effective workers, leaders and citizens in the 21st century. How can we as administrators make sure our schools are teaching the right combination of knowledge and skills to ensure our students’ success now and in the future?

Here are some ideas from schools around the country whose mission is to do just that.

  • Introduce an international studies requirement for graduation. Evanston Township in Illinois requires sophomores to choose from a series of in-depth humanities courses on the history, literature and art of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Idaho recently passed a requirement for all high school seniors to complete a project linked to an international framework. Visit www.idaho-humanrights.org for information.
  • Ensure professional development has an international focus. Most higher education teacher preparation programs do not require their students to take classes with an international dimension. Organizations like the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (www.NCTAsia.org) are helping prepare teachers to add an international dimension to their classroom instruction.
  • Require students to learn a second language. A recent Phi Delta Kappa poll indicated that 85 percent of Americans believe learning a second language is important and 70 percent believe second language instruction should begin in the elementary school.

A school district that understands this is Glastonbury School District in Connecticut. Since 1957, world language study has been a requirement. Today, 93 percent of Glastonbury’s students study at least one language, and the overall curriculum includes an international dimension. The school district’s reputation for language and international studies is now a major draw for families moving into the area.

  • Use student and faculty exchanges and partnerships to promote a global curriculum. Across the country, school districts are signing agreements with other countries to facilitate exchange initiatives.

In Chicago, Walter Payton College Preparatory School took advantage of Chicago’s sister city relationships to offer every student the chance to participate in exchanges, both real and virtual, with schools on six continents.

At International School of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas, professional development includes a trip to Mexico to prepare teachers to lead students on an exchange later in the year.

We must take advantage of the many opportunities for exposing our students to the world beyond our borders, whether we begin by introducing one class to the curriculum or initiate an entire world language sequence starting in kindergarten.

Hero Profile: Yvonne Chan
Yvonne Chan is principal of Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, part of Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network, the first national network of schools working in low-income urban areas to produce college-ready, globally competent high school graduates.

Vaughn is located in Los Angeles and serves 2,000 students — mostly Hispanic English language learners who are eligible for free/reduced-price meals. It opened as a K-8 school but recently expanded to include the Vaughn International Studies Academy, which gives access to students in grades 9-12 access to the curriculum in which international knowledge and skills are thoroughly integrated.

Under Chan’s leadership, Vaughn has developed an effective school model that includes small classes, high expectations, educator accountability and community partnerships that support children and their families. Today, Vaughn is one of the most successful urban schools in the nation, serving as a model for solving many public education challenges while giving students an international perspective.

Sarah Jerome is AASA president in 2007-08. E-mail: jerome@ahsd25.k12.il.us