I am a traveler, explorer, and lover of cultures beyond my own. The experiences I’ve had through travel have only enriched my life and enhanced all that I learned through my years of formal education. As a mother of two now, I’m constantly thinking about ways to provide my children with similar learning opportunities, ways to teach my children about the world and its diverse cultures. We have mini-foreign-language lessons at home. If we watch a family movie or show that takes place in a foreign land, I try to follow up the viewing with a more involved introduction and a geography lesson. We recycle, shop at farmers’ markets, and use locally-sourced food items as much as possible. So, I do what I can to educate my children about global and cultural issues that I believe are important. But can I do more? How else can I provide my children with a global outlook and appreciation? Aside from traveling full-time, what are my options?
We are lucky to live in such a culturally diverse city as Chicago, where visits to our ethnic neighborhoods, essentially, can be viewed as a mini-trip around the world. Moreover, some will say we’re fortunate to have a wide range of education options. (I say “some” because public education vs. charter schools currently is a hot political topic in Chicago.) This is weighing heavily on my mind at the moment because, like a lot of other parents, my husband and I are planning for our daughter’s entry into kindergarten later this year. We are still waiting to hear from Chicago Public Schools to find out if she was admitted to a gifted program or into one of the magnet schools. In the meantime, I began thinking of other options beyond the Chicago public education system, of which I am a product and continued supporter. It isn’t so simple anymore when picking a school to attend, though; it goes far beyond location and convenience. Plus, education has evolved from the simple “reading, writing, ‘rithmetic” mindset to focus on more worldly topics, and I have learned of two schools that stand out as leaders in the advancement of global citizens.
GWA-C is a private institution located in downtown Chicago and is the first K-12 school in the United States from the international award-winning GEMS Education group. What appeals to me about GEMS is the students’ immersion in and collaboration with a global network of their peers. Geoff Jones, Founding Head of GWA-C, highlights this sharing of knowledge and experience: “Our use of state of the art technology enables students to connect not only with the rich cultural center of Chicago, but with their classmates across the globe, providing students an international perspective that is unmatched.” Equally as important, at the core of a GEMS education is teaching “children about basic human values such as honesty, kindness, generosity, courage, freedom, equality, and respect. GWA-C students have a social conscience and learn the real meaning of compassion.”
AGC is a public charter school and its mission is to develop “mindful leaders who take action both now and in the future to positively impact their communities and the world beyond.” Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Founder and Executive Director of AGC, emphasizes the holistic approach taken to education “by fostering environmental stewardship, community wellness and international mindedness.” This is carried out by having recycling and compost stations throughout the building; a schoolyard garden, with its own chickens, to discover fresh, organic food; and Environmental Sustainability Education imbedded within the curriculum. Ippel also states, “This philosophy is implemented with great intentionality, beginning in Kindergarten, where students’ development of empathy for a worm in their classroom compost bin or the chickens in our schoolyard garden can lead to a greater care and concern for a friend at our international sister school halfway across the globe.”
I understand these two school options may not be viable for all families, as GWA-C is a private institution and admission to AGC is via a lottery system. For these reasons, and due to our uncertainty surrounding placement in a Chicago Public School, another option I have been considering, in order to include such global topics in the education of my children, is homeschooling. What appeals to me are the flexibility it offers and the opportunity for a more customized learning experience. Also working in our favor is the rich cultural diversity of Chicago. We can supplement lessons with field trips to our world-class museums and our various ethnic neighborhoods. Homeschooling also offers the possibility of using travel as an education method, which would be ideal for me. Chicago parents and homeschoolers Nancy and Larry Boerema agree, stating, “We have even talked about getting a travel trailer to teach on the road. We believe hands-on experience is the best.”
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of education options for Chicago parents, nor a disparagement of Chicago Public Schools. Rather, it is to be seen as a short list of suggestions, alternatives to public education for parents, like myself, who are intent on, and inspired to, raise their children to be global citizens.
An abbreviated version of this article originally was published on Mommy Nearest.