AGC’s founder and executive director, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, just returned from a trip to Brazil, where she spoke at TEDx Unisinos, presenting alongside fellow innovators in education. The following interview was written in Portuguese by Diogo Figueiredo and published on Zero Hora, A Educação Precisa de Ropostas (Education Needs Answers) and other Brazilian sites. The interview was translated into English before being posted here.
Shortly after her talk at TEDx Unisinos the afternoon of Thursday, 29, Sarah spoke with Zero Hora about the Academy for Global Citizenship. Read excerpts from the interview below.
ZH – How did you get to join forces to create the Academy for Global Citizenship?
SEI– My travels have inspired me to create, to reimagine education, and to share this enthusiasm with everyone I met in Chicago. In the end, we managed to bring together an amazing team of people who believed in a better future for our children. It was important to find passionate people and, somehow, these people wanted very much to be involved.
ZH – What is the difference between this and the school that you attended as a child?
SEI – The experiences are very different. When I went to school we had desks, rows, textbooks and the teacher was much more an instructor who directed students to specific tasks. At our school, the teacher is a facilitator who allows children to be the leaders of their education, learning through hands-on projects. For six weeks, they study a globally relevant topic, which is then adapted into scales and appropriate standards.
ZH – How have you engaged the community?
SEI – We have developed a comprehensive strategy to educate and inform families and members of our community. Considering the realities of our culture and this community, it is very important to have that support, since families will learn alongside their children how to integrate and spread this philosophy and these principles into their homes.
ZH – Do you believe that the education they receive at the Academy for Global Citizenship prepares students to deal differently with the current crisis?
SEI – Our students not only have the academic skills to compete, but develop the ability to solve problems, to innovate, to think about creative solutions. They have that mentality early. They have created NGOs and are looking at the challenges of our community and our world to create solutions. For example, last year’s 4th grade students saw the challenges of poverty in our community where many people had no access to food and clothing. They were concerned, engaged and developed an initiative. They came to me and presented a communication strategy with goals and launched a project called “Free Store” where people could “buy” food and clothes for free. It was very interesting to see the solutions they have created to address a challenging situation.
ZH – How did you create the model green school?
SEI – Sustainability is a complete philosophy– not just in terms of teaching and learning, but also in terms of practical operation. Sustainability guides our decisions, is central to our mission, is part of how we think. The work we do with food, sustainable energy, “zero waste” and composting, recycling and other initiatives can generate learning opportunities as well. We structure our work and educational units so that our students can understand their role in the world as global citizens.
ZH – How do you encourage the families to accept organic food, considering the American culture?
SEI – It is difficult, you need an approach that supports the consumption of such food. Many of these foods are not familiar to the children, many have never seen these plants. They want pizza and fries. It is very important to provide nutrition education to students and parents, because they reinforce it at home. But it is also important that they cultivate this food, that they plant the seeds to grow this food in boxes our school garden. It is also important that they travel to the farms that grow this food, to meet the farmers who participate in activities that can change the way they think about food. When they start to make different choices, asking for healthy meals at home, parents are very happy.
ZH – Does contact with nature change the relationship of students to their environment?
SEI – Our philosophy is called “place-based education.” This means that for our students develop empathy for the world they must first of know their own community. When they are young, around five, we focus on lessons based in the nature that surrounds us. So before we talk about endangered species or global challenges we make sure they know our own trees and insects, and thus fall in love with our environment. Once they develop that interest, they get to know different environments, and it is because of these experiences that I believe they even care deeply about the world.
ZH – Are you optimistic about the future of these children?
SEI – I’m already inspired by them. Students who are 10 years old are already becoming great leaders, they challenge me and pose questions that make me incredibly optimistic.