Back to School with Global Purpose

High School Students Prepare to be Leaders of World Citizenship In and Around the Classroom

The month of August is distinguished by back to school commercials, families squeezing through Target aisles to snag notebooks and pens, new clothes shopping, and teens once again setting alarms to get in the early morning groove; or still happily savoring the last couple weeks to sleep in. But for 35 Seattle-area students, the approaching school year also brings with it the beginning stages of a year-long project designed to promote global awareness among their peers. 18 groups from 13 different greater Seattle area high schools have committed to completing a Global Awareness Project within their school or around their community in the next year.

These students acquired the foundation for their projects at the 2013 Global Youth Leadership Initiative (GYLI). GYLI is a year-long program designed to assist high school students in learning about current global issues while developing leadership skills and increasing the global awareness of their community. As part of this program, GYLI students spent a week in June gaining exposure to a variety of world issues. They built on their global perspective with the help of presentations from expert speakers, interaction with an international career panel, educational and interactive workshops, and time spent discussing experiences, issues and solutions together.  One day’s activity allowed the students to get out of their comfort zones by role-playing as a refugee family in the International District through World Relief’s Refugee Simulation Project. Given ethnic outfits and new biographies to adopt, they moved between a simulated US Department of State, a medical screening clinic, and a refugee feeding station. Upon shedding her Ukrainian identity after the activity ended, one Seattle student commented, “I hadn’t given much thought to what it was like for refugees before, and this simulation felt very real.” They intimately felt the struggles that people seeking asylum abroad face every day and gained valuable knowledge that will contribute to each student’s empathy toward the situations faced by neighboring refugees.

The experience moved many of the students, as several groups decided to use refugee camps as the focus for their upcoming projects. But all the groups chose excellent topics to invest time into this year. Issues ranging from poverty to human trafficking, homelessness to education, and countless more on a global scale have been thoughtfully considered by this group of individuals as compelling topics to bring to their community’s attention. Here are some of the Global Awareness Projects being planned:

–          Two 11th grade students at Bothell High School hope to hold competitions to raise money at their school to support education in developing countries.

–          We have two groups from Eastlake High School this year; one focusing on water sanitation with fundraisers like Polar Plunge, and the other planning an awareness week to address the issue of human trafficking

–          Two groups at Forest Ridge High School will tackle the topics of the Israel/Palestine conflict and slavery.  One group hopes to lead students through the same refugee simulation they experienced, as well as partner with an established club to promote peace in that region of the Middle East. Two other students are planning on hosting a film screening to bring attention to modern day slavery.

–          An 11th grade student at Garfield High School wishes to speak out against the issue of violence against women through a public art project in her community.

–          One Inglemoor High School student plans to take advantage of International Day of Families to distribute paper cranes containing 1,000 facts about the world in every classroom.

–          An Ingraham High School 9th grade student plans to host a presentation on clean water at his school and bake cupcakes to fundraise for a related organization.

–          A former Lake Washington High School student’s idea is to create comic strip displays to educate her peers on a number of pertinent global issues.

–          One student at Lakeside High School wants to create a website discussing environmental issues and organize “Plant a Tree Week” in his community.

–          Mercer Island High School students will invite a speaker to talk about clean water in Kenya and fundraise to support aid organizations in the area.

–          Two groups at Nathan Hale High School will focus separately on refugee camps and child education by showing movies and organizing benefit concerts.

–          Two students at Redmond High School also seek to use a benefit concert to explain the importance of global music education.

–          We have three separate groups taking on projects at Roosevelt High school; three students raising money to support clean water worldwide, another group who will invite guest speakers from Free the Children to speak at their school and local elementary schools about the importance of education in developing countries, and one 10th grade student planning to do a money and medical supply drive for health centers in Africa.

–         Two STEM High School students want to combat the issue of homelessness by working with their school’s multicultural club and hosting a Halloween canned food drive, as well as putting a spin on a classic Easter egg hunt by placing facts about homelessness inside each egg.

By dedicating time during their school year to complete these global awareness projects, our Seattle students will be part of significant efforts to make our vibrant community more internationally aware. They have the power to encourage others’ excitement about world affairs and to create real change for some of these issues that sometimes remain unnoticed. We are excited to see the directions their projects go and how they will inspire more active levels of global citizenship throughout their communities.