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.
SUSTAINABLE LEARNING LABORATORY ON CHICAGO’S SOUTHWEST SIDE TO RECEIVE $31M ALLOCATION FROM STATE CAPITAL PLAN
Academy for Global Citizenship Demonstrates a Different Vision of Scale with Net Positive Energy Campus and Environmental Education Hub
[Chicago, June 28, 2019]— Over the last ten years, a public school on the Southwest side of Chicago has captured the attention of over 10,000 visiting educators coming from as far as Brazil and China, India and Kyrgyzstan. The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is an international laboratory for innovation in education which incubates creative solutions to 21st century problems, including a comprehensive wellness program and an inquiry-based curriculum driven by concepts of environmental and social justice.
AGC’s 500 students and teachers are currently split between two rented facilities which are separated by a major intersection and truck route, nestled into Chicago’s Southwest side.
But thanks to a new state capital fund authorized by Governor Pritzker today, AGC will receive a $31 million allocation from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to build a new campus and “school of the future”—a facility that has been designed to serve as a model for school architecture and pedagogy for 21st century learning.
“This investment will yield significant returns for the state, as the campus has been designed to serve as a cost-replicable prototype for future public school construction,” said Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, AGC’s Founder and Executive Director.
Plans for the “net-positive” campus include the integration of renewable energy sources to generate 105 percent of the school’s energy supply, a three-acre urban farm with fruit orchards and apiaries to fuel a scratch-made meal program and neighborhood farm stand.
“The learning space itself will serve as a teacher training institute for sharing best practices in education,” Ippel said, adding that while construction has not yet begun, plans have already inspired the work of architects and school leaders from across the country.
The new campus will include a new tuition-free early childhood program, extensive community gardens and a teaching kitchen in a neighborhood with limited access to green space, fresh food and early learning resources.
“In collaboration with a team of architects and designers, AGC has redesigned school architecture for the social and environmental needs of the 21st century,” according to Ippel.
AGC was one of Chicago’s first International Baccalaureate elementary schools, and its 100 percent scratch-made organic meal program and wellness curriculum serves as a pilot for the Chicago school district. AGC’s dual language immersion approach is also being replicated in collaboration with the Illinois State Board of Education.
“Since its founding, AGC’s intention was to become an incubator for innovation in education,” said Ippel. Fueled by a sense of urgency around social and environmental issues, Ippel and her colleagues started the school to prepare Chicago students to make positive changes in the world. When she was 23, Ippel rode her bicycle to speak to Chicago’s Board of Education to share her vision for the future of learning. Today, that vision has impacted five million students through program sharing with educators, schools and districts worldwide.
AGC’s vision of scale was inspired by the founding mission of public charter schools – to develop and disseminate effective solutions to the challenges faced by schools and districts throughout Illinois and across the nation, said Ippel. More than 93 percent of AGC’s student body are children of color, more than 70 percent are from low-income families, 30 percent are English language learners and 15 percent are diverse learners.
AGC students have demonstrated a tremendous capacity for academic growth, outperforming as many as 94 percent of national peers in literacy growth scores and ranking in the top eight percent of district elementary schools on comprehensive ratings. AGC is a tuition-free and open enrollment public school.
Ippel and her team have been working on the net-positive project for many years and are thrilled by the boost that this funding will provide to their scale initiatives. “We are immensely grateful to our partners in Springfield and across the state for believing in the power and potential of a learning laboratory whose doors are open to the district, city, state and educators around the world,” said Ippel.
The story of AGC’s Learning Laboratory and Sustainable Education Hub campus is documented in their book called “Reimagine Education.” Phase one architectural designs were completed by Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang Architects.
Click here for more information about AGC’s Educational Learning Laboratory and Community Sustainability Hub.
AGC’s commitment to healthy, sustainable food is central to our model and to our students’ success at AGC and beyond.
Food is a community health issue. Children require proper nutrition for optimal growth and development. Eating habits that begin in childhood play a key role in lifelong health issues like cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, and can impact many other chronic diseases.
Food is a social justice issue. Nutrition-related diseases disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities, and one in four Chicago Public Schools students are obese.
Food is an academic issue. Nutrition impacts socio-emotional and academic functioning. It is well documented that hunger has a strong negative impact on classroom behavior and academic success. Additionally, major studies have shown that the quality of a student’s diet has a major impact on academic performance even after controlling for socioeconomic factors.
Unfortunately, most young people are not following healthy dietary guidelines. Schools can send conflicting if not detrimental messages when they promote unhealthy food in their cafeterias, vending machines, bake sales, and as rewards for classroom success.
As we were creating this unique school, knew that we wanted to develop a schoolwide culture that supported our mission and vision surrounding healthy food.
But how do we define healthy food in a way that makes sense to students, is accessible to students, and matches ever-evolving research and medical perspectives? How do we get our teachers and families on board? How do we ask an entire community to change the way they eat? How do we honor important cultural food norms? How do we ensure that no one feels ashamed? How can we meet our students and families where they are and inspire them to grow?
We knew that it was important that our staff and parents model healthy choices for our students. We knew we wanted to help our students develop a healthy relationship with food and an appreciation for healthy food. We knew that we needed to create a schoolwide wellness policy that included nutrition guidelines.
Like most things at AGC, our food policy grew organically, over many conversations with different stakeholders.Our policy was a living breathing thing. It began as a sensible “stoplight” based on nationally accepted best practices. Over the years, specific items would appear at school that would challenge the framework. We had heated debates with our students over the hot sauce they brought from home which was salty and processed, but, they argued, encouraged them to eat more vegetables. Over time, the food policy stoplight developed into a lengthy and confusing mix of broad categories and specific products. In recent years, we reflected on the purpose and process of the stoplight in order to better clarify and curate the information.
“Good food is a right, not a privilege. It brings children into a positive relationship with their health, community, and environment.” – Alice Waters, Chef and Founder of the Edible Schoolyard
Food can transport you to another world, connect you with nature, other cultures, and your own body. The school garden is also an excellent teaching tool, offering a hands-on application for so many subjects.
By nurturing living things, students develop responsibility, patience, and empathy. There’s also no better way to get a child to eat healthy food than to involve them in growing and cooking it. This is especially critical for low-income populations which are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to fresh produce and quality nutrition education. Unfortunately, many school cafeterias, especially those in low-income areas, rely on highly processed foods.
When AGC opened our doors and built our first garden, we dreamed of watching our students grow food for their own meals. However, at the time, it was not possible for school gardens to use their own produce in federally-funded school meal programs. There was no food safety procedure established that catered to the specifics of a school garden. For our first several years, we gave produce away from a folding table in our parking lot or slipped vegetables into our students’ backpacks for their parents.
In 2012, the Academy for Global Citizenship joined forces with FamilyFarmed.org, Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Botanic Garden to create the district’s first school garden food safety manual and training program. With support from the USDA, Healthy Schools, Campaign, and others, this group developed and piloted a program which has made it possible for thousands of students around the city to eat what they grow. Since launching with an 8-school pilot in 2013, this program has been fully adopted by Chicago Public Schools and has expanded to reach students across the city.
Recently, thanks to a generous grant, this program has been expanded to serve an additional 130 schools and to incorporate job training for high school students. We are tremendously proud of the way this initiative has grown and grateful to our partners at Chicago Public Schools for their incredible advocacy on behalf of our city’s students.
AGC’s edible schoolyard includes a greenhouse, over 40 large raised beds, and a chicken coop. Here, students and families can study every aspect of growing food. They choose heirloom seeds, help them grow, and sell them in schoolyard farmers’ markets or to local businesses. They also care for four schoolyard chickens and collect their eggs.
Our vision for the future expands this concept across 3 acres. AGC recently purchased just over 6 acres a few blocks away from our current rented building on which to build a revolutionary new sustainable campus. Nearly half of this site will be reserved for urban agriculture, which with help from a farm partner, will contribute significantly to AGC’s scratch-made and local meal program. Click here to learn more about our future.
To support an AGC student’s access to healthy meals, consider making small monthly contribution of $7 to offset the cost of local and sustainably-sourced produce in our scratch-made meals. Click here to make a generous donation.
AGC’s Middle School program is kicking off a Global Citizen Workshop Series in two weeks with expert guest lectures and performances on social justice issues. Every month AGC students in grades 6-8 will participate in workshops led by local experts and members of our community.
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, we seek to engage them in critical dialog about what is happening around the block and around the globe.
AGC’s Middle Years Program Coordinator, Berenice Salas, is spearheading this initiative alongside student and faculty leaders. Mrs. Salas brings a unique perspective as a long-time social justice educator and parent of three AGC students who has spent her whole life in our community on the southwest side. For Mrs. Salas, this workshop series is a way to proactively address the needs of our local community by encouraging grassroots advocacy.
“We need to have critical dialogue with our students. We need them to commit to being part of the positive change in our world. This is a way for them to develop a deeper understanding of their role within our school, their community, society, and the world.” – Berenice Salas, AGC Middle Years Program Coordinator
Each workshop will feature at least one guest expert who will engage our students in reflective dialog on important issues in our community around the world. The organizing committee has prioritized seeking experts who are represent the diversity within our community and who are aligned to AGC’s mission and vision.
The Global Citizen Workshop Series kicks off in two weeks with a workshop featuring local rapper and educator Lizzie G. Lizzie G’s programming addresses issues of race, identity, empowerment, bullying and social emotional learning, through dialog and entertainment. Local to Chicago, Lizzie frequently takes her “No Bully Zone” program on the road, and recently returned from a tour of schools in Haiti.
Proposed upcoming topics include: social media and our digital footprint; crime, drugs, and gangs; interpersonal violence and bullying; healthy sexuality and LGBTQ+ identities; and social emotional wellness.
In addition to this workshop series for Middle School students, AGC educators are also hosting a parent discussion series. This series, which we are calling “Real Talk,” offers a safe environment and resources to support our parent community in discussing topics such as gender, race, ethnicity, and culture. Real Talk seeks to provide a safe and respectful space to discuss tough topics, to help participants develop better understandings of different perspectives, and to encourage the sharing of personal stories and opinions.
If you are an educator or school leader interested in learning how AGC incorporates global citizenship and social justice into our culture, curriculum and operations, please contact us to learn about professional development offerings.
We are enthusiastic about these new initiatives and will keep you updated on the blog as our Global Citizen Workshops and Real Talk Series continues. As a public charter school, AGC’s budget is limited by per-pupil funding amounts, and we seek donations for important innovative programs like our Global Citizen Workshop series, 100% Organic food program, and international student travel. Click here to make a donation to support innovative programs at AGC or contact us to sponsor an upcoming workshop.
At AGC, we are mindful of our students physical and mental health needs. Educating the whole child beings with ensuring whole child wellness. We look to the wellness wheel as a helpful symbol of our balanced wellness approach.
The wellness wheel guides our daily practices across culture, curriculum and operations. Every morning, students and staff share a balanced, organic breakfast followed by yoga or meditation and a community meeting. To maintain balance during a demanding 8-hour school day, students enjoy 25-minute recess and take additional 10-minute “brain breaks” throughout each day. From grades K-2, students participate in a daily wellness class which incorporates all 6 aspects of human wellness, described below. Beginning in third grade, students have a more traditional physical education course in addition to a holistic wellness course, which addresses social, emotional, environmental, spiritual, and intellectual wellness alongside topics in physical wellness, such as nutrition and hygiene. These two courses provide critical skills and guidance as our students become increasingly independent and responsible for developing their own healthy habits.
6 Dimensions of Human Wellness at AGC
Intellectual – We practice intellectual wellness every day as we exercise and fuel our minds. We are curious, open to new ideas, and maintain an appetite for lifelong learning.
Physical – We practice physical wellness by sharing balanced and nutritious meals, participating in daily physical activity, caring for our body in a way that supports a long life and an active lifestyle.
Emotional – We practice emotional wellness by developing our ability to handle emotions in a constructive or positive way. We do so through integrating social-emotional concepts across our curriculum in units such as “art and feelings”
Social – We practice social wellness by seeking to maintain satisfying relationships, healthy networks, and community participation.
Spiritual – We practicing spiritual wellness by taking part in activities that impart a sense of meaning and purpose in life and by developing a sense of our personal values.
Environmental – We practice environmental wellness by appreciating, respecting, and supporting our surroundings and the planet, as well as by spending time in nature.
The video below, developed by our friends at the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Principals Association offers a glimpse inside AGC’s Wellness program.