Learning globally, acting locally at VCS

Tenth grade students at Vermont Commons School are learning about Early Modern History in their Social Studies class–but not in the usual way.  “I decided to change things up,” said teacher Mark Cline Lucey.  “After eight years of teaching this same class about global history, I wanted to bring the curriculum to a deeper level.”

Inspired by the school’s Strategic Plan which calls for global immersion and community-based learning, Cline Lucey decided to enroll his sophomore class in the Challenge 20/20 program of the National Association of Independent Schools. This program connects classrooms around the world to collaborate on addressing important global issues.

“I thought about our curriculum and the importance of germs in shaping world history in the Age of Exploration,” said Cline Lucey. “So I signed us up for the Challenge 20/20 topic of Global Infectious Diseases. In early September I received word that we had been partnered with the International School Suva in Fiji–and we were off and running!”

After introducing themselves via video to their counterparts across the world, the nine Vermont Commons sophomores started digging in to the history and current status of major global infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, and even local threats like Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Most impactful has been the local service element.  Challenge 20/20 asks that classrooms become involved with “local solutions to global problems.”

In September, Cline Lucey contacted the Burlington-based Sudan Development Foundation (SUDEF). As a small but growing foundation, SUDEF “partners with local villages in rural South Sudan to develop projects that sustainably improve the quality of life through health, education, and economic development.” The health clinics they have built help a population of over 25,000 South Sudanese in 11 villages to survive outbreaks of malaria, cholera, and meningitis.

“Here was the perfect community partner for our work,” noted Cline Lucey. “They are a small, locally founded organization working to address infectious diseases internationally. And because they are underfunded, they have clear needs that my students can really help with.” Currently the Vermont Commons students are filming and producing a PSA that will drive a web-based, social media campaign to get the word out about SUDEF’s work and raise the funding that will purchase materials and supplies for clinics in South Sudan. Students will also capture the stories of Burlington’s resident South Sudanese refugees and do some grant writing.

Meanwhile, their student partners in Fiji are working hard to address issues of local waterborne diseases. Through a collaborative web blog, the two classrooms are exchanging research and creative ideas as well as getting to know each other through email and Facebook.

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