At this kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school in a low-income neighborhood near Midway Airport on Chicago’s southwest side, students learn from day one to focus on the world outside themselves, their school, and even their local community.
The “global” in Academy for Global Citizenship isn’t just lip-service to a nice concept. It’s how the school guides students to understand the environment in which they exist, and how they can contribute to making it better.
It’s what AGC calls a “place-based” approach to education, “which honors the neighborhood and city in which our school exists.”
AGC also features a major focus on sustainability and health (see this article for a detailed description)
AGC is also an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) school. According to the International Baccalaureate Organization: “The PYP prepares students to become active, caring, lifelong learners who demonstrate respect for themselves and others and have the capacity to participate in the world around them. It focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both within and beyond the classroom.”
The school’s seventh- and eighth-graders follow the IB Middle Years Programme curriculum.
As in some our other favorite schools, learning is inquiry-based, meaning students are allowed to pursue learning about themes or topics that spark a deep interest in them. At AGC, students follow a “program of inquiry” every six weeks.
Each inquiry follows a cycle proscribed by IB and adapted by the Academy for Global Citizenship. The first step is “Invite,” during which the teacher leads her class into the inquiry topic.
Next comes “explore,” during which students “find their own path” into the material and develop their own particular interests, according to Katherine Elmer-DeWitt, the school’s external initiatives manager.
That’s followed by engage, during which students dive deep into research. Next is represent. Students produce something tangible, perhaps a poster, a paper, a work of art – something that “makes learning visible.”
The final two stages are review and act. Reviewing consists of assessing and reflecting on what has been learned, asking questions and revising. Acting is using new knowledge to take thoughtful new action.
Last fall, for instance, second-graders conducted an inquiry called “making our voices heard.” They explore how individuals across time have used their voices to make change in the world. They brought in current and former activists to describe what they had done. One was a leading Vietnam war protester in the early 1970s. One teacher had on the past been an animal rights activist.
As the unit was nearing its end, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests erupted, and students wrote letters to federal officials on the project.
As much academic content as possible is taught through inquiry cycles. The school also has more traditional math and language arts classes, however, to satisfy Chicago Public Schools requirements.
Fifth-graders finish their PYP careers with an exhibition they spend weeks, if not months preparing. When Compositive visited the school one spring day, students were in furious, last-minute preparation for their presentations later that week.
The presentations demonstrate “powerful, student-led learning,” said fifth-grade teacher Meredith McNamara founding teacher at AGC.
One group of three put the finishing touches on a presentation about the 9/11 attacks – which occurred before they were born. Along with ample historical material and a detailed timeline of the day, the students interspersed quotes from adults recollecting where they were when they heard the news.
Other groups readied presentations on the movement to secure equal rights for LGBT people, another on the challenges faced by homeless veterans.
One group focused on the close-to-home issue of gun violence in Chicago. They created pamphlets to distribute in high-violence area about how to conduct peace circles.
“The pamphlet will teach people how to communicate with one another, and allows people to express their feelings in a healthy, safe, and non-violent way,” they wrote.