Taking education beyond the classroom

When high-school students Jack Virnich and Jennifer Arreola-Soria go on stage in April to talk about their travels to Japan and China last year, they likely won’t be reading a laundry list of museums they visited or boat rides they took. They did do those things – and thoroughly enjoyed them.

But what Jack and Jennifer cherish most about their trips abroad was not the tourist attractions. It was the deep human connections they made, the absorption of new knowledge, and a more profound understanding of the world from vantage points they never could have imagined from their school desks.

Travel broadens students’ horizons. It gives them unique insights into ideas and places they may have only read about in textbooks. The Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS) Foundation has a vision to provide such travel, language immersion, community service and cultural exchange experiences to all 2,400 students in the DCIS system, a Denver Public Schools program. It raises scholarship money to do so. This school year alone, the foundation has awarded $32,340 in scholarships to more than 500 students from ECE through 12th grade.

For many students, the trips offer a first-time chance to leave the city, the state, or the country. For Jack, who traveled to Japan on a foundation scholarship, the formation of close relationships with three different host families sparked hope that world peace is possible. His visit to Hiroshima inspired his decision to study international relations in college next year. And for Jennifer, whose trip to China was her first out of the U.S., a girlhood dream of traveling came to life. The trip helped her realize that, in a world with six billion people, the air, the land, and the skies we all share are the same – and that each of us has an impact.

To raise money for its scholarships, the DCIS Foundation will hold a dinner on April 23, when community members will gather to offer financial support. The keynote speaker is Jamie Van Leeuwen, a senior advisor to Governor Hickenlooper. He is also founder and CEO of the Global Livingston Institute (GLI), a non-governmental organization in East Africa whose mission is to educate students and community leaders on innovative approaches to international development and to empower awareness, collaboration, conversations and personal growth.

Jamie firmly believes in developing young people in ways that open their minds to other cultures, other people and other ways of doing things. In a Q&A, Jamie offers his insights – and a sneak peek at the topics he’ll cover in his speech:

Why is it important to develop intercultural relationships?

Jamie: The world has changed a lot in the last decade. We live in a global exchange of ideas where information moves quickly. How we approach education, public health and commerce is changing too.  We need students who are learning about international development to think differently, and to think bigger about how we impact positive change in our communities.

How will training students in international relations help them become more informed, compassionate and action-oriented?

Jamie: The reciprocal relationships we build with our colleagues abroad will define how successful we are in addressing our most complex social issues. Philanthropy is changing. Our markets are changing. This is an exciting time to be engaging in international development, but how we do it and how we define our relationships will determine how successful we are in our work together. To this end, we need young people to think differently about how they engage in international development.

What is your take on the theme, “The World as a Classroom”?

Jamie: The world ISour classroom. From the GLI’s standpoint, the world is essentially the platform from which we operate! Our motto is “Listen. Think. And then Act.” How we listen and think with other cultures and communities will determine how we act, and how successful we are. We must think big about how we grow together as a global community. By exchanging ideas and building relationships between students in Colorado and East Africa and other countries, we breathe life into our global classroom.

What are the GLI’s plans for youth partnership and youth leadership program expansions?

Jamie: We are growing innovative partnerships with classrooms across the state, such as the Denver School of Science and Technology, Colorado Mountain College, Colorado State University and others. And this year we expect to double the size of our music festival – which brings together U.S. musicians and students with musicians from East Africa. We are also working with Ugandan musicians to plan a U.S. tour to create awareness and education among communities and students about the importance of building a global classroom together.

What are examples of the power of being “on-the-ground” as opposed to reading a textbook?

Jamie: The GLI Music Festival brought together U.S. musicians and students with musicians and public health experts from East Africa. Over five-thousand youth attended one of the largest free concerts in East Africa, and we tested over 800 of them for HIV – with significant economic impact on the community. Additionally, we held a Women’s Leadership Summit that brought together 10 American women leaders – philanthropists, community leaders and CEOs – with 10 emerging women leaders from Uganda and Rwanda. The Ugandan and Rwandan women had never had “a seat at the table” to engage in dialogue about leadership and women’s empowerment. Also this year, our Entusi Research Center hosted Ted-X Talks featuring Ugandan youth leaders who engaged Uganda youth audiences. And finally, using students and international experts, we trained 20 local Ugandans to provide basic mental health evaluations in their community. These are all examples of learning by engaging and doing – the kind of learning that simply cannot be done from a classroom or by reading a book.

DCIS Foundation Dinner Details

The DCIS Foundation looks forward to hearing more about lessons learned in Japan, China and East Africa, and about the world as a classroom, on April 23. The dinner takes place at the Denver Athletic Club, and tickets and reservations are available through EventBrite. More information is available at www.dcisfoundation.org.

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