Global Community Citizenship fosters connections, instills civil discourse skills in AACPS students
“Global Community Citizenship (GCC) is a course born out of despair, built on passion, and now lives in hope.” — Katara West, former GCC teacher at Arundel High School, Gambrills, MD.
Conflict in school is certainly nothing new, as school is a community centerpiece where people of various backgrounds must congregate. Such differences have led to misunderstandings, division, and altercations among students throughout the decades. The prevalence of social media and round-the-clock expression can further challenge school community relations. Recent trends in online communication in the United States have contributed to new levels of sharing and expressing opinions with vast audiences, often without concern for causing offense to others. Freedom of speech, some maintain, equates to freedom of expression to include hateful, critical or vulgar language, bias, and overt racism, offending or inciting those of opposing opinions. This approach, generally based upon a lack of understanding, has increasingly resulted in disruption in schools and in the public arena, as well.
In one such instance in which an incident threatened to hurt and divide a school community, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Maryland) had a bold and visionary response. The Global Community Citizenship (GCC) course began as a pilot in 2017 at Arundel High School to create a sense of community among an extremely diverse student population. On February 7, 2018, the Board of Education adopted AACPS’ new Strategic Plan; the first driving value of which, and now a familiar mantra, “All Means All,” summarizes the goal of the plan – to elevate all students and eliminate all gaps. In order to reinforce this mantra and goal and in recognition of the positive impact of Arundel’s GCC pilot, the course was declared a graduation requirement for all ninth-graders beginning in the fall of 2019.
While the transition to high school brings many changes for students, GCC provides a platform for freshmen to establish an invaluable sense of community. The semesterised class hones listening and social discourse skills through self-exploration to understand what events, traditions, and circumstances have shaped their views, behaviors, and goals, followed by exploration of traditions of people in local and global communities – all with the singular goal of fostering values of acceptance and inclusion.
GCC content consists of four modules: Building Relationships, Awareness of Self and Others, Exploring My Community, and Growing in My Community. Within each module, standards like “Examine perspectives of other people, groups, or schools of thought and identify the influences on those perspectives” guide conversation and engaging activities among students. Facilitated by hand-selected teachers, the class evolves into a safe, respectful environment where youth are comfortable sharing and questioning ideas through a myriad of activities: reading, seminars, community circles, discussions, debates, team building activities, personal reflections, multi-media productions, collaborative learning experiences, current event explorations, and guest speakers. GCC also calls students to action as “citizens.” Through Project-Based Learning, students identify and discuss issues, events, and essential questions relevant to their communities, allowing them to understand their own role in demonstrating civic virtues.
Take it directly from the voices of some of the first student participants:
-“Ever since I took this class I’ve been willing to do more.”
-“Our class is like a community. I know every person in our class very, very, well; and it’s really nice to see perspectives of other people.”
-“Any 9th grader coming in should expect their eyes being open for the first time ’cause this is not a typical class…you’re getting life experiences, and that’s what truly matters.”
-“It’s really learning about how you impact other people and how other people impact you.”
-“An experience that stood out for me was core values…it made me realize…what I needed to be more focused on, and some of the things I was already focused on, to put behind me.
GCC buoys the development of students as independent thinkers and changemakers.
George Arlotto, Ed.D., is Superintendent of Schools, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS). Mary Tillar is Assistant Superintendent for Advanced Studies and Programs, AACPS
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