AGC is hiring! Please share the opportunities below with your networks to help us reach best-fit candidates for our unique school.
The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is a non-profit Chicago public charter school, located on the Southwest side. Our mission is to develop mindful leaders who take action now and in the future to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. Our innovative and holistic approach aims to foster systemic change and inspire the way society educates future generations. AGC values:
AGC is an internationally recognized laboratory of innovation in education, with a Dual Language program, an International Baccalaureate MYP and PYP program, and a progressive approach to multi-stakeholder collaboration. Please help us identify good-fit candidates for the following roles! Click the links below for full job descriptions.
We are looking for staff who…
Have a big heart to match a big brain
Want their work to define best practice
Respect and thrive in a dynamic, changing, and growing environment
Know extraordinary things can happen when people work hard together
Are excited to participate in a laboratory for innovation in education
Dream about reimagining what’s possible for the future of learning
Are (ideally) bilingual in English and Spanish
Working at AGC means…
Being surrounded by thoughtful, inquisitive students and hard-working, passionate, and like-minded colleagues
Thinking outside of the box to do what is best for our students
Promoting student profile qualities of the International Baccalaureate Program: inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, well-balanced, and reflective.
Having high academic expectations for every student in the school every day
Getting your hands dirty in our school garden and facilitating outdoor learning
Enjoying 100% organic, scratch-made meals prepared by our on-site chef
Working in an environmentally sustainable and health conscious school culture
Incorporating wellness, mindfulness, yoga and environmental education into your work
AGC is currently seeking exemplary applicants for the following positions:
The Academy for Global Citizenship is a Chicago Public Charter School, located on the underserved southwest side of Chicago. Our innovative and holistic approach to education aims to foster systemic change and inspire the way society educates our future generations. We are producing a replicable model for learning in the 21st century, including the construction of a net-positive energy campus.
AGC has embarked on a 6-acre community development project that now expands far beyond the work of “a school” and includes a federally qualified health center, significant urban farming operation and fresh foods store, community wellness facilities and neighborhood services. The mission has expanded to cultivating vital communities and igniting economic development, in addition to closing the healthcare access and food insecurity gaps. This a cutting-edge community transformation project will serve as a replicable model for school campuses across the country and around the world. With that goal in mind, AGC is seeking a Communications Intern to manage the organization’s contacts, newsletters, and social media posting and strategy in order to generate awareness of the new mission, and to inspire action on specific campaigns and requests for support.
Consolidate current contact lists into one CMS platform and then manage ongoing updates
Create email template in the CMS platform
Gather content from the AGC leadership team and populate email newsletter 1-2 time per month.
Secure approval and distribute newsletter to contact list
Organize the posts with all necessary elements, upload each post for approval, and ensure each post goes live according to the schedule.
One (1) hour per week of engagement on FB & IG
Offer advice and recommendations on best practices for growing our following, reaching audience, and leveraging our influencer relationships on social media.
Required Skills & Characteristics include:
Experience in marketing, communications, and social media management
Comfort with basic CMS platform functions (e.g. contact management, newsletter design and distribution)
Comfort with strategies, techniques, and skills required to leverage posts on Facebook and Instagram
Comfort with Adobe Photoshop (or similar photo editing software)
Strong communication skills
Able to work independently/remotely while maintaining close, regular contact with the Director of Strategic Scale
Start Date: immediately
Duration: 6-months (minimum commitment)
Estimated Weekly Hours: 5-10
Contact: Trevor Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org
To apply, please submit your cover letter, résumé and two references to email@example.com.
We are an Equal Opportunity Employer. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, gender, age national origin, or disability.
“Find yourself by losing yourself in service.” I originally heard this phrase while on my first service learning trip to Puerto Rico in 2017 and I will never forget it. It perfectly embodies the value of our annual 8th grade service-learning trips. From the very beginning, our 8th graders are active participants in the process of choosing, planning, and fundraising this life changing experience. But this trip doesn’t only impact the individuals who participate in it; it impacts every person in their life and the lives of the people in the communities we serve. Service is different than helping; service is a partnership. Helping implies that one party has more power than the other; it implies that one party is lesser than the other. The work we do is mutually beneficial; each party gives and receives from the other. This mindset ensures that there is no pity involved in our experience; we help students develop empathy, not sympathy. In doing so, we develop perspective, appreciation, and mindfulness: of ourselves, our world, and our place in it. My name is Aaron Fischer; I am a 7th and 8th grade Language and Literature teacher at The Academy for Global Citizenship. In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to explain the impact of this experience on our families, students and the world.
I’ll begin with the families because they are the people who are so often overlooked in this experience. The brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, and of course mothers and fathers who travel on this journey with us. Who place their trust and faith in teachers to bring their children home safe and sound with a new perspective on the world and themselves. The parents exhibit some of the same IB learner profile traits that we expect their children to exhibit on this trip: risk-taker, communicator, open-minded, balanced, and reflective. While our students are developing who they are as individuals, their parents are too.
I marvel at the bravery of our students’ parents as they drop their child off at the airport and say goodbye. I am always so proud of them when the thorough communication that we provide helps them become more at ease as we settle in. As the trip moves into the final days, the anticipation of seeing their child causes parents to miss them in a way that they have never experienced before. The eventual family reunion, with renewed appreciation of each other and a modified perspective on their relationship, always leaves me speechless, reflecting on the unique and unexplainable impact on each family unit. It is a truly incredible, subtle transformation that produces a bond and appreciation between teacher, student, and family that is second to none.
It is obvious that the students are the main priority of our 8th grade service-learning trip but what is not so obvious is the impact that the experience has on their identity. This mystery is part of what makes this experience so dynamic and individualized. Our students are leaving their families, their friends, their communities, their habits and routines, and yes, their cell phones behind and basically taking a blind leap of faith. As adults, we have experiences to refer to in order to help us take abstract ideas and experiences and rationalize them into something we can understand. Young adults have a much more limited ability to conceptualize the unknown. They are excitable but often aren’t sure what they are excited about. It is the unknown that excites them and their willingness to jump in headfirst is an incredible gift that our service-learning trip allows them to take full advantage of.
I’ll never forget the first evening of our 2019 service-learning trip to Puerto Rico. We were walking from our hotel to the restaurant we would be eating at all week. I walked this same route many times while working with my first group of students in 2017 and was thinking nothing of it until one of my students pointed and yelled, “They have pigeons in Puerto Rico!?” This moment, this tiny, seemingly silly moment, is an example of a connection made between the known and the unknown; an example of a child’s worldview broadening in the blink of an eye. These are the moments that litter our subconscious, and these are the moments I live for as I watch our students take in a new world and make it a part of theirs. The selective subtlety of memories, the individual impact of an experience, that is what our service-learning trip provides to our students in the most immersive way.
My mother and I often reminisce about the past, when I was little and she would take my brother and me to places big and small. Sometimes she asks me, “Do you even remember that? Did it even matter?” I always reply to her with the same response, “It’s in there somewhere.” That’s the beauty of finding yourself by losing yourself in service. It can’t be explained simply, in fact, most of it can’t be explained at all. It must be experienced and it can never be taken away, it will always be in there somewhere.
Life and the World
Although the AGC 8th grade service-learning trip is geared toward the betterment of our students as individuals, we have an undeniable impact on life and the world. The impact of service, whether it is environmental, spiritual, or communal, has ripple effects that reverberate for days, weeks, and years after we leave the location in which we serve.
Environmentally speaking, we impact the earth and in turn the earth impacts us. We marvel at the intricacies of the earth’s design, resilient in the face of man-made obstacles and poisons. We stand in the forests of Puerto Rico, mud to our knees and spiders hovering around our head, and plunge our hands into the dense, moist soil to remove the invasive species and bring light to the native Mangroves that are so important to the well being of the island. Smiling, filthy and sweaty, we are proud to have the opportunity to connect with our earth on a different level, marveling at our ability to feel so small yet so powerful in the same moment.
When is comes to community, I will refer to a dictionary definition that says, “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Our students embark on this journey of service not only to develop themselves and impact the environment; they travel and serve to broaden their perspective on their individual significance in our global community. No matter where we are, we are an individual part of a greater whole and with travel and service comes an understanding that our community is not our neighborhood, our city, or even our country; it is our world and all the people, plants, and animals that inhabit it. We strive to give our students the opportunity to discover this fact in an organic way, whether they are standing in the middle of a rainforest, looking out over the Caribbean Sea, standing at the base of a volcano, or navigating bustling cities and markets, we prioritize connections to our world community.
Spirituality means many things to many people, and while we are engaged in service, we have an opportunity to step back and examine and evaluate our individual perspective on what it is to be human. I watch as our students take a moment, unprompted, to look around them and take stock of who they are, where they are, and where they’re headed. I see them develop a deeper more meaningful perspective on the power and potential that lives in them. This is an experience that provides our young people with the space and place to ask themselves, “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” These are some of the most significant questions given to us by life and there are few times where adults, let alone kids, are able to evaluate their answers with so little noise and so much inspiration.
In reality, the 8th grade service-learning trip cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. Each student, parent, and community member enters the experience as one version of themselves and exits as another. Moments as small as going to the grocery store, listening to the sound of the rain, and taking a deep breath are as significant as moments as large as climbing a volcano, swimming in the ocean, and being away from your family for the first time. The beauty of the experiences we create come from the simple fact that they are ours to share, remember, and build on. I am reminded of a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, “A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Jones will lead the $60 million campaign to redefine the future of education
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Founder & Executive Director
Phone: (773) 744 – 8729
CHICAGO, IL – The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) has announced that non-profit executive Ryan Jones has been tapped to serve as Chief Development Officer.
Jones will be responsible for all activities surrounding fundraising for AGC, including a $60 million campaign focused on building a 72,000 square foot state-of-the-art Global Learning Hub that will incubate best practices in education and serve as a center for positive social and environmental action on Chicago’s southwest side.
“AGC’s long-term vision for global scale drew me to this incredible organization, and it is an honor to play a role in ensuring this next exciting chapter becomes a reality. I am passionate about providing transformative educational experiences to young people, and the Learning Laboratory and Sustainability Hub represent an extraordinary opportunity to inspire students across Chicago and beyond.”
Prior to joining AGC, Jones was the Senior Director of Development for the Evans Scholars Foundation, where he oversaw a team of Major Gift fundraisers and national fundraising for one of the largest private collegiate scholarship funds in the country. Previously, he was responsible for raising major gifts at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, as well as the University of Maryland and Duke University Athletic Departments.
Jones earned his undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina, and his Masters of Arts from the University of North Carolina, leading to a career focused on higher education and non-profit fundraising. He lives with his wife, Brooke, in Chicago, IL.
“I’m thrilled to welcome Ryan to AGC at such a critical moment in our organization’s history. Under his leadership, we look forward to achieving our ambitious goals for fundraising to benefit children throughout Chicago and across the globe. Ryan’s proven delivery will be instrumental in achieving an unparalleled level of environmental sustainability through the Living Building Challenge, which would be the first project in the State of Illinois and one of only 24 worldwide to receive this comprehensive certification,” said Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, AGC’s Founder and Executive Director.
New Academy for Global Citizenship Campus Approved for Chicago’s Southwest Side
72,000 sq ft public charter school and community learning hub to focus on agricultural education and wellness programming
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, (773) 744 – 8729
Founder and Executive Director
CHICAGO, IL – Today, the Chicago City Council approved the development of a new Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) campus on the city’s Southwest side following unanimous approval by the Chicago Plan Commission.
The new 72,000 square foot, two story school building and community learning hub will anchor the corner of 44th Street and Laporte Avenue. Once home to Leclaire Courts, the six-acre site was sold by the Chicago Housing Authority to AGC in 2018 to allow for the new campus development and community anchor. Alderman Michael Rodriguez and Commissioner Maurice Cox joined fellow Committee on Zoning members in their support of the new campus.
“This visionary project will be a catalyst for additional development as part of the Gateway to Midway initiative. There were meetings and presentations to various community groups in the area about the project and an MOU signed by AGC with the Hearst Community Organization and Right to Return resident leadership that signifies AGC’s commitment to community partnership and accountability. This area of the southwest side has long suffered from systemic under investment and we are working to correct that.” said Alderman Rodriguez. “Our neighborhoods have been identified by the USDA’s Economic Research Service and the Chicago Health Atlas as being medically underserved, having limited access to grocery stores and higher food insecurity rates. I am proud to support the Academy for Global Citizenship in their work to correct these alarming disparities through their innovative approach to educating the whole child, family and community through wellness, nutrition and agricultural programming in addition to their commitment to being a collaborative partner in the community.”
AGC was granted a charter from Chicago Public Schools in 2008 and has been serving the community for 12 years. AGC is an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School with a Dual Language program. The school is public, tuition-free and open to all Chicago residents, without test-in requirements. AGC serves majority low-income students and families in Southwest Chicago, with a student body comprised of 96% minority and 24% special needs students. The current enrollment is 468 students ranging in age from kindergarten through 8th grade. 96% of current students reside within 5 miles of the new campus.
The new campus will incorporate a new Early Childhood Education Center and will allow for expanded agricultural education and community wellness programs. Beyond the school building, the new campus will also include the development of a learning barn, wind turbine, animal grazing area, hoop houses and Institute for visiting educational fellows. Over half the area of the new six-acre campus is reserved for urban agriculture and nature-based playscapes. The entire site provides educational experiences with areas devoted to hands-on student and community learning, allowing students and neighbors to plant, harvest, and eat foods related to their units of study, their interests and their cultures.
In partnership with Urban Growers Collective, the campus will provide year-round garden education and community engagement opportunities via greenhouses, seasonal gardens, hoop houses, community gardens, walking trails, a neighborhood farmers market, a learning barn, a food forest, an orchard and berry bushes, brambles and grapevines. A variety of spaces will support culinary arts and positive nutrition, including a community teaching kitchen that will provide hands-on classes for families and neighboring residents. Produce grown above and beyond what is required for student meals will be sold at affordable prices to the community through AGC’s Community Farm Café.
“This project is a concrete example of what innovation looks like” said Commissioner Maurice Cox when voicing his support of the project, program, sustainability goals and innovative architecture. AGC has committed to seeking certification through the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous metric of environmental sustainability. Only 24 other similarly certified projects currently exist in the world.
This project is funded by a $31 Million dollar grant as part of Rebuild Illinois, a grant fund administered through the State of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The construction of this campus and community learning hub will create approximately 120 full-time-equivalent, predominantly union jobs during the construction phase, and in total, employing an estimated 1,000 individuals throughout the overall course of construction. Upon completion, the campus is also projected to employ an additional 25-30 new, permanent, full-time positions.
The development team is comprised of SMNG-A Architects, Farr Associates Architects, 180 Studio, Daley and Georges as Zoning Attorney, KLOA as Traffic Consultant, Stephen B. Friedman as New Market Tax Credit Advisor and URBAN ReSOLVE as Development Advisor.
AGC’s core mission is to develop mindful leaders who take action to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. In order to help our students develop the skills and aptitudes of an open-minded critical thinker, AGC educates students in Inquiry into Action cycles. Our curriculum and school culture all contribute to cultivating the next generation of global, environmental and civic leaders.
We believe in having critical dialogue with our students and we celebrate their commitment to being part of the positive change in our world. One of our 8th grade students, Leila Gutierrez , along with her family, are working with El Foro Del Pueblo in their Little Village neighborhood. Leila is an environmental activist who is working on fighting for environmental justice with groups like the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Recently, Hilco Redevelopment Partners demolished their old coal plant’s chimney. This demolition left Little Village with dust and debris. Leila believes that “Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental justice is the movement’s response to environmental racism.” Leila is committed to working towards environmental justice.
This propelled her to participate in two protests about Hilco’s contamination of her neighborhood. Leila believes it is important for people to fight against racism, and environmental racism is a part of the same fight when communities of color are contaminated, ignored and attacked. “I want to encourage everybody to do what you can to take a stand with communities that are being targeted with racism and racist environmental attacks.”
We are proud of Leila and her activism and her commitment towards environmental Justice.
WITH VIDEO: Mayor and Earth Day Founder Address Chicago Students During Virtual Celebration Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Global Landmark Event
April 22nd event brings together families, educators, and environmental leaders
CHICAGO, IL – On April 22nd, Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot participated in a virtual celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with students and staff of the Chicago-based Academy for Global Citizenship. Embracing the challenge of these difficult times, students, families, community partners, and staff conducted the celebration via remote connection hosted by the founder of the academy, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, who discussed near-final plans to launch the academy’s new campus in Garfield Ridge.
“I am so thrilled that we are launching this new learning hub, which will do so much for communities in Southwest Chicago,” Mayor Lightfoot said during her welcoming address. “I am so proud of what AGC and its students have accomplished over the past twelve years establishing this important institution of learning … but I am even more moved by your vision for community learning and everything you’re poised to accomplish in the future.”
Denis Hayes, founder of Earth Day, and Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, founder of Chicago-based Academy for Global Citizenship, discuss plans for the Chicago academy’s sustainable new campus.
To launch the new campus, the Academy for Global Citizenship received a capital commitment of $31 million from the State of Illinois last June. Located in Garfield Ridge, the facility will reimagine community learning, providing education, early learning, employment opportunities, health care and other services to communities in Southwest Chicago. As part of the Living Building Challenge, the academy will produce more energy than it uses, via solar panel arrays, and it will give back to the community more food than it consumes, via greenhouses, hoop houses and a learning barn.
Hayes was particularly complimentary of AGC’s commitment to student wellness and nutrition. “The environmental impact of what you eat…is enormously important and I know that your school has been very good about growing some of your food,” he said during the interview with Ippel. “That is dramatically underestimated by most people in terms of its impact on climate change.”
Hayes launched the first Earth Day gathering in 1970 as a way of raising awareness about ecological degradation, and in the interview with Ippel, he discussed how plans for the academy’s new campus will have a powerful impact on the environmental movement. The academy intends to become the first facility in the Midwest to meet the rigorous environmental standards of the Living Building Challenge.
“It is truly inspiring to learn from Denis as a lifelong advocate for a more sustainable future,” Ippel said. “Human wellness is so closely tied to a healthy environment, and we hope that our new campus will empower generations of students to invent solutions that balance human and planetary well-being.”
Members of AGC’s student Green Team collected lettuce they helped grow last spring on the Garfield Ridge campus of the Academy for Global Citizenship. Photo credit: Marney Coleman.
AGC’s Innovation Fund offers educators the opportunity to develop innovative learning practices through travel, study, and pilot programs. AGC’s Sustainability Coordinator received an Innovation Fund grant to study farm and culinary education in Oslo, Aurland, and Copenhagen. Click here to make a donation to support AGC’s Innovation Fund.
Farming and Cooking in Scandinavian Education
My name is Marney Coleman and I am the Sustainability Coordinator at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC). In this capacity I work to embed sustainability into our school curriculum, culture and operations. One of my favorite parts of my job is engaging students in our school garden and cooking activities. As part of our work to develop a model sustainable Learning Hub on Chicago’s Southwest side, we are conducting increasingly in-depth visioning for the future of garden education and the role of student programming in an on-campus production farm. I am incredibly excited about the plethora of possibilities that exist around deepening student engagement in the agricultural components of this future campus.
This fall, I had the privilege to travel to Denmark and Norway to study best practices in student-centered agricultural and culinary programs. This research trip was made possible by a grant from AGC’s Innovation Fund, which exists to support AGC educators in collecting and developing best practices in global learning.
I visited three different organizations during my time abroad: Haver til Maver (Copenhagen, Denmark), Geitmyra (Oslo, Norway), and Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule (Aurland, Norway.) During these excursions, I was able to observe and participate in a diversity of programming, including a 5th grade cooking and gardening class, a Kindergarten gardening class, a multi-aged special education cooking class, and a farming course for young adult learners. Each visit provided insights and inspiration that expanded my thinking on the possibilities within agricultural and culinary education.
My learning can be best distilled into three major takeaways:
Lesson #1: Students must allowed to take managed risks, with clear expectations.
This was a theme at all three organizations I visited. I was impressed to see students of various ages starting campfires independently after watching a demonstration, chopping veggies unassisted, and washing veggies outside on a cold and rainy day. What I learned from observing how my hosts approached these activities is that when students are allowed to take managed risks, they become more comfortable with the outdoors and culinary skills.
This was especially apparent in Haver til Maver’s approach to incorporating outdoor exploration as part of their school visit model. Haver til Maver is an educational organization working within 40 local schools gardens in Denmark. In their own words: “children sow, grow, cultivate and harvest their own vegetables… Afterwards they cook their vegetables in the outdoor kitchen and turn their vegetables into a healthy and tasteful meal.” I was lucky enough to be able to participate in this farm-to-table approach with a group of inquisitive 5th graders at one of Haver til Maver’s sites in Copenhagen. The learning garden I visited was located on the grounds of an old castle!
In between their cooking and gardening sessions, students were able to engage in free nature-play in and around the garden. I was amazed to see how familiar the students were with this beautiful space that they visit several times a year. Students showed me their favorite climbing trees, where to find the best plums, their favorite places to look for birds, and how to play on the outdoor swing and balance bridge. I asked the facilitator what the physical boundaries were for students’ exploration. She gave me a knowing smile and replied, “as far as where they can still hear the bell,” gesturing to a large iron bell which served as a signal for students to return to the program. She explained that this is inherent to the Haver til Maver programming and pedagogy. Students are granted trust to explore in the garden and kitchen. They learn from experience how far they can go or how to master knife skills.
During my visit, students made a soup which is traditional in Denmark for the fall. Students worked in teams to create small outdoor fires, chop vegetables (with real kitchen knives), and independently follow the recipe in their groups. When I expressed my surprise, the facilitator explained that as part of the program, students are trained throughout the sessions to reach this precise point, knowing that they have to earn the privilege and responsibility to use these tools. By the time they use the kitchen knives, students are well practiced in knife skills after using plastic knives. While there is always risk in using sharp kitchen tools, this becomes much more managed as students are trained up to use them.
This lesson provides a great “true north” direction to aspire to not only in the integration of outdoor play in our future campus — with the outdoor farm, learning greenhouse, and campus landscape as areas for exploration — but also in AGC’s current cooking and nature-based curricula.
Lesson #2: Engage the community.
During my time in Copenhagen I was fortunate to meet with Haver til Maver’s founder, Søren Eljersen. Outside his work with Haver til Maver, Søren is a sustainability entrepreneur and founder of a sustainable meal kit company called Aarstiderne. Søren newest project is called Bangaarden. In cooperation with the municipal government, Søren and his team are working to turn an old railcar factory into an ecological and gastronomical hub. With an on-site garden, as well as ‘food incubator’ spaces for individuals to rent space, the hub offers on-site courses in fermenting, cooking, as well as a long table for people to share food together. This emphasis on community — learning, growing, and eating together — gave me so much inspiration for what the community-based spaces of AGC’s future campus could be like. I dream of hosting community dinners at a long table featuring AGC-grown, on-site fermented foods or renting out our commercial kitchen to local food entrepreneurs.
This particular takeaway was extremely evident at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule, an agricultural school in the small town of Aurland, Norway. The school is truly at the heart of this small community utilizes the community in much of its pedagogy. For example, the school’s approximately 60 adult students work with the municipal government on a compost collection initiative. Businesses and individuals in the municipality drop off food and yard waste at the school, providing organic material for agricultural students’ composting study! The beauty of this program is not only its mutually beneficial nature, but that it brings community members into the school, allowing them to see programming in action and to understand the value of the school. Additionally, the school hosts a farm store, featuring produce and value-added products from the farm, alongside products from local entrepreneurs and school graduates. I was so excited to see so many students and community members shopping and to learn that many in the community see the farm store as a hub of fresh food. It gave me so many ideas for what the farm store on AGC’s campus could be, and ways to make our current student-run farmers market more engaging for our local community. Lastly, the school has a full-production greenhouse where students learn to propagate plants to sell to the town. During my visit they were getting poinsettias ready for the holidays!
Another inspiring community connection at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule was the long-standing partnership the school has with the local public elementary school which is located just across the street. My tour guide Jorunne has been bringing students from the local school to the farm for many years to experience nature and learn about growing cycles. Jorunne has also created a curriculum scaffolded on both experiences and content. This partnership is well known and highly valued by the community. A family that hosted me during my stay in Aurland told me that they had moved from Oslo with their two young sons in large part because of this high-impact partnership with the farm. This partnership inspired many ideas in how our future campus might collaborate with our community as well as how we might further develop the K-8 agriculture and culinary curriculum based on our specific context.
Lesson #3: Signage, clothing, and organization are critical.
Last, but certainly not least, I was most excited to learn from the logistics of how each of these programs worked! What do students wear in muddy or cold weather? Where do they keep their materials? How do students move throughout the farming and cooking spaces without overcrowding? A big takeaway for me was that consistent systems, procedures, and communication are key.
This was a theme I observed in all of my visits, but was particularly evident at Geitmyra matkultursenter for barn. Geitmyra is a Norwegian food education non-profit which explores the farm-to-plate cycle and cultural identity through food. Geitmyra has three different centers and I was fortunate to visit their first center in Oslo. During my visit on a chilly, rainy day I was able to tour the kitchen and garden spaces, to participate in both garden programming for kindergarteners and culinary programming for a multi-aged diverse learner class. On my tour I observed a wonderful variety of developmentally-appropriate outdoor and indoor spaces. Outdoors there is a sheltered yurt with a capability for a fire designed for younger students to warm up after a chilly day on the farm. Additionally, there was an outdoor “worm theater” for young students to observe worms at work. For older students, there was a plethora of outdoor cooking equipment such as a smoker for fish – a local culinary staple, and a stone pizza oven. Indoors, Geitmyra staff and facilitators were proactive in thinking of the diversity of students they serve by designing adjustable-height table-top burners, allowing students of multiple heights to actively engage in cooking.
Each organization I visited had a very organized system for materials. “Every item has a home” was a common mantra. Even in the outdoor cooking space I visited at Haver til Maver, which had a very small storage area, was immaculately organized. Student teams were responsible for washing and putting away their own equipment. They maintain an outdoor three-bin wash station, which was extremely effective! This added responsibility on students ensures that the space stays tidy for future groups and that facilitators can focus on teaching, rather than cleaning.
Lastly, a great takeaway that I observed was organization of student clothing. At Geitmyra, local Kindergarten students participate in programming on a regular basis. When I arrived at the farm on a cold and rainy day, I was surprised to see the group of Kindergarteners ready to participate in an hour long outdoor program. Their teacher explained to me that each child kept has a set of outdoor clothes at school. These kids came prepared! There is a Scandinavian saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” and these students demonstrated that tenfold! These smallest farmers in boots and snowsuits were happy to harvest potatoes and carrots in very cold weather. Equally important, their teachers were just as prepared and unfazed by the less-than-ideal weather conditions. Modeling outdoor preparedness and excitement for all weather was key to the program’s success.
Overall, this trip provided so much inspiration, insight, and perspective into the world of farm and culinary education. This experience has inspired me to deepen my work and coaching of staff both now and at our future campus. I would like to express my most sincere thanks to the AGC Board of Directors for their support of the AGC Innovation Fund and to our founder Sarah Elizabeth Ippel for connecting me with organizations abroad. Additionally, my learning would not have been possible without the friendly and helpful hosts at each organization I visited: Daniel Hervik and Søren Eljersen at Haver til Maver, Renate Fuglseth at Geitmyra, and Jorunn Barane at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule. I would finally like to thank the Danish and Norwegian students and teachers who shared their experiences with me during my visits.
AGC’s Innovation Fund offers educators the opportunity to develop innovative learning practices through travel, study, and pilot programs. Two Middle School educators — Ms. Feduniec, MYP Science teacher, and Ms. Salazar, MYP Spanish teacher — received an Innovation Fund grant to study Scandinavian pedagogy and school design in Denmark. They shared their learnings upon return to help enrich teaching and learning across AGC’s curriculum. We are excited to share these “Lessons from Denmark” with you now.
When we learned about the incredible opportunity our school was offering to engage in an innovative international learning experience, we immediately thought “Scandinavia!”
Many of us at AGC are already familiar with the high ratings that Scandinavian countries have earned on various global indices. From sustainable energy production to free universal healthcare and education, subsidized day care and a shorter work and school day, it is not surprising that the standard of living in these countries is often touted as a paragon for overstressed Americans. It is also easy to understand why most Scandinavian countries regularly occupy the top spots of the Global Happiness Index. This year, Finland holds the top spot, followed by Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
But enough about that! Our goal, after all, was not to completely restructure the fabric of our society. What drove us educators was the desire to learn more about Scandinavian instructional practices and how other factors worked together to make Scandinavian students academically competitive on such a global scale.
Our first question was — which of these meccas of welfare and happiness did we want to visit? Because AGC is developing a new campus right here on the Southwest side of Chicago which uses design to fuel inquiry-based learning, we decided to focus our study on innovative school designs that foster 21st century learning. AGC’s new campus is heavily influenced by Scandinavian school design, due in large part to the collaboration of celebrated Danish designer, Rosan Bosch. After some research, and several emails and phone calls, we identified three Danish schools renowned for their learning environments: Buddinge, Hellerup, and the International School of Billund (ISB.)
During our visit, we toured each school and interviewed students, teachers and administrators. We gained a tremendous amount of insight about the schools in particular and the country in general. Although each of these schools is unique in character, design, and location, they also shared a focus on traditional academic disciplines. We therefore divided our findings into two categories: the first one highlighting the new and innovative, and the second paying homage to the oldies but goodies.
Here are our lessons from Denmark.
On Creative Design:
One of the very first things that you will notice upon visiting any of these three schools is the creative use of space. When we first walked into Hellerup, we were taken aback by the grand and open staircase connecting all the levels of the building. This staircase is not only the physical center but, as one teacher put it, “the living, breathing heart” of the school. It serves a multitude of purposes as students use it daily for dance, games, reading, working, socializing and exercise. It even houses a built-in amphitheater in the shape of a whale!
The school’s overall design is reminiscent of a hive, with learning spaces branching out in a circular fashion from the staircase. This open concept space makes the learning process dynamic and ever-changing. Students are not confined to a single classroom environment, but have the capacity to move spaces and even create their own spaces depending on the nature of their work. They may gather in a larger hub for direct instruction, but move to a smaller nook or space for individual or partner-based work. As much as the space inspires autonomy, it feels incredibly interconnected at the same time. Standing on the top floor, one can see what is happening in every direction on the floors below it, which promotes a sense of collective unity.
Although the architectural stamps of Buddinge and the International School of Billund are vastly different from that of Hellerup, these schools also provide unique and creative use of space. Buddinge’s recently renovated upper grade wing boasts a colorful and fun open space with an array of flexible seating options: a room of colorful ascending padded seats known as the “mountain,” nooks for small group work, and even a room of padded rolling hills upon which kids can sit, play and learn. The design is ideal for students with different sensory needs.
According to Michael Gundlund, a school leader at Buddinge, this new space was an experiment of sorts. It was mainly intended to promote 21st century learning, with a focus on creativity, communication and collaboration, as well as student motivation. So far, the experiment seems to be working. The students adjusted quickly to the new design. They seem to love their new space and their academic outcomes seem to be improving.
The adjustment for teachers was more challenging than it was for their students. Rasmus, a History and Language Arts teacher, said that the move meant a “complete realignment of teaching and pedagogy.” Moving from traditional classrooms to an essentially open and shared space meant they “had to learn how to plan and collaborate better together.” They adapted to a new model of teaching. In this model, a lesson might begin in a group setting or “campfire,” move to a small group nook or “cave,” transition next to a hands-on or “movement” setting and culminate at the “mountaintop” for a presentation and collective discussion. Despite the fluid movement across spaces, these lessons are structured and need be planned out ahead of time. Luckily the school employs someone to manage the often complicated scheduling of these spaces so that teachers can focus on instruction.
Another imperative component in each of these school designs is nature. Most learning spaces have big windows and are flooded with natural light. Trees and gardens surround the schools and are often embedded within them. ISB features numerous inner courtyards while Hellerup boasts a rooftop garden. Buddinge went even further by making each learning space accessible to the outdoors. When weather permits, learning at Buddinge is happening outdoors just as much, if not more, as it is indoors.
With all this creative and innovative design, our Danish colleagues also imparted a few pragmatic details. They encouraged attention to the size of learning spaces. More flexibility requires more space, especially when there is a variety of teaching happening simultaneously in a shared space. They also urged attention to acoustics. This is especially important in spaces with minimal interior walls. At Hellerup, the teachers and students make use of lockers, screens and furniture to foster small, intimate, and collaborative learning spaces while promoting concentration and minimizing auditory distractions. Danish educators know that trust is fundamental in innovative learning environments. Moving with autonomy through various spaces requires trust that students will behave appropriately. This means a lot of scaffolding is necessary for students, especially those with trauma and socio-emotional needs. This is an especially important point to keep in mind in our underserved community in Chicago, where many of our students have a history of trauma and where social work and counseling services are too often limited. Finally, Danish educators know that teacher input is paramount. Educators will have to do the most to adapt their practices to innovative learning spaces, and therefore, they should be intimately involved in the design process.
On Respecting Academic Disciplines:
While Hellerup and Buddinge are best known for innovative architecture, these schools also place great value in traditional disciplines including athletics, arts and science. Buddinge has several gymnasiums, outdoor sports fields, arts studios, woodshop studios, student kitchens, and science laboratories. Pretty impressive for a neighborhood public school!
Hellerup, which is located in a city, boasts a variety of outdoor sport and recreation areas for their students, including a track, soccer field, skate park and the mother of all playgrounds with sandboxes included. ISB, located in a less urban setting, celebrated the opening of a new outdoor running track on the day we visited. This investment reflects the important role that physical and mental well-being has in Danish society at large.
Speaking of well-being, did you know that students in many Danish schools prepare their own meals in school? Each of the schools we visited boasted a large area designated for collective cooking in middle school, with smaller kitchens for the younger grades. Many meals are prepared using discarded produce from local supermarkets that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. We were excited to watch “scraps” transformed into culinary delicacies by students as young as fourth graders.
The respect for the arts and sciences within these schools is also something worthy of discussion. Buddinge boasts several arts studios catered to specific age groups, and a separate woodworking facility. ISB houses a spacious arts studio, an auditorium for performing arts, a library, a technology lab with specialized laser technology and even a robotics lab. Science laboratories are a staple of each school. The facilities vary to some degree but all are outfitted with standard chemistry equipment, hook ups and storage. ISB has even gone the lengths to separate their lab spaces by scientific discipline, one for chemistry and another for life sciences, and yes, both have access to the great outdoors, just in case you were wondering.
In the end, the greatest takeaway for us has been that innovative design and practices definitely enhance student learning, but there is also value in tradition and practices that work. A new building design is not a silver bullet, but it can fuel innovative teaching and learning. Michael Gundlund captures this ethos perfectly when he states, “Here in Denmark we already do education so well that we have the room to experiment.” Implementing a Scandinavian-inspired model here on the Southside of Chicago will require foresight, resources and collaboration. Thanks to our generous benefactors, AGC’s board of directors, assistance from our school founder Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, architect Trung Le, designer Rosan Bosch and our new friends at Buddinge, Hellerup, and ISB, we have gained new insights and look forward to putting them into practice right here at AGC.
My name is Bryan Soto, and I have worked as the Health and Wellness Teacher for 3rd-8th grade students at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) since 2014. As part of our curriculum, students learn about the six aspects of wellness – physical, spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual, and environmental. More importantly, we learn and discuss the interconnected nature of these different aspects of our lives.
Living an active lifestyle and following a healthy diet are only part of the equation when it comes to being healthy and well. At AGC, our Wellness Wheel guides much of the learning in our class as students learn that their social and emotional wellness (and their understanding of it) also play a critical role in their wellbeing. Students in our wellness program learn about breathing techniques, different forms of mindfulness activities/exercises, and the importance of meditation and self-reflection. Throughout the years, students have completed a variety of culminating projects that have included self-care guides and manuals, personal growth plans, and emotional first-aid kits to demonstrate their understanding of these practices.
This year I was selected as part of the first group of Pilot Light’s Food Education Fellowship where educators are supported in meeting their school’s rigorous academic standards and nutrition requirements while creating exciting and meaningful learning experiences around food for their students. With the help of renowned chefs and experienced educators, Pilot Light has developed a cohesive model for classroom food education, incorporating food as a tool for learning and teaching to the more traditional subjects such as Math, Reading, History, and Science.
Pilot Light provided our school with $1,000 for food and supplies that students can use during our lessons, but with close to 300 students in 3rd-8th, I knew that the need for resources was greater than what was granted. Shortly after receiving the grant I started a Donors Choose campaign where I shared our story with our AGC friends, staff, parents, board members, and the rest of the world! In less than 1 week we raised over $1,700 dollars which were used to purchase kitchen and art supplies for all my students.
Thanks to our Pilot Light partnership this year, AGC also received a mobile teaching kitchen cart which was built using repurposed wood boards from old CPS buildings! Through a series of games and activities, my students are learning to identify different fruits and vegetables and their health benefits, as well as junk food and its effects on our wellness. During the year students will learn about cooking/kitchen hygiene and etiquette, practice math every time we read a nutrition label, scale a recipe, or learn about portions and ratios. In class, we discuss culturally appropriate ways in which students can encourage healthier grocery shopping, cooking, and eating practices at home today and into their futures.
Our learning at AGC does not stop in the classroom as students are assigned a series of at-home learning experiences meant to give them an opportunity to apply and demonstrate their learning while making real connections from the classroom to the grocery store, the kitchen, and their lives in general. Some of my biggest successes go beyond the data that assessments provide and include the anecdotal evidence I constantly receive from my students’ parents. Over the years, I have had parents tell me that after my classes their children refuse to drink soda at home, or begin demanding whole grain bread over white bread, or even going as far as cutting out meat or junk food on their own accord. No success is greater than knowing my class has served as a catalyst for real change in their current life paths and wellness journeys.