Parent Bia Edwards, Avary George, Lori Imel, Rosanne Paul
Second-grader Avary George lives in Grass Valley, a rural Northern California community that looks much like it did during the Gold Rush days. Though a small-town girl, Avary is an expert about rain forest critters, samba music and South American artwork. She sings in Spanish when she arrives home from school.
Her mother couldn’t be happier.
“In just 18 weeks at school, my daughter has immersed herself in the art of South American countries,” says Melissa George. “She’s learning global awareness. She understands that there’s a big world out there, that we live in a very small part of it, and that we are all part of something much bigger.”
Avary attends Bell Hill Academy, a K-4 school that started a global studies program this year designed to promote respect for other cultures and the environment. Spanish instruction is offered to all students; some students are enrolled in a dual-immersion program and taught in Spanish 90 percent of the time. Each grade level learns about a different continent and explores the native cultures, environments and wildlife of that continent through music, artwork, pottery and other activities.
The program’s enrichment classes were made possible through a $20,000 grant from CTA’s Institute for Learning, which offers a new approach to school change. Grants are approved for teacher-driven, strength-based programs based on strategies that are proven to be successful. Before the grant, Bell Hill students received no Spanish instruction. Grants allowed the district to hire two teachers fluent in Spanish.
The Grass Valley School District has seen declining enrollment and a significant change in school population in the last few years. During this time of change, Grass Valley Teachers Association (GVTA) members researched options that would positively impact students and support teachers striving to be more creative in their teaching approach. They decided upon the global studies program.
“Parents love it,” says GVTA member Rosanne Paul, a resource specialist and program coordinator. “Parents understood we wanted to prepare our students for the 21st century and global marketplace using critical thinking skills, collaboration and creativity.”
A typical day
The first thing students see each morning is flags of other countries at the school entrance. It looks like a mini United Nations plaza. The school day begins with a walk around the campus to music from around the world. When the bell rings, students “freeze” and have to guess which country the music is from. The school’s “book in common” for all grades is The Adventures of Mali and Keela by Jonathan Collins, which highlights positive virtues from around the world, focusing on compassion, diligence and determination.
Students are establishing relationships with students at “sister schools” through the use of Skype. Second-grade teacher Lori Imel plans to have Avary and other students speak face-to-face with Brazilian students who speak Portuguese and some English.
“I want them to talk to my kids about daily life and what it’s like growing up in Brazil,” says Imel. “My kids are brainstorming about what kinds of questions to ask Brazilian students. Some social issues may come up in conversations that indicate poverty, and when we get off-line, we can discuss and compare our challenges and society to that of Brazil.”
Imel met Bia Edwards, a native Brazilian who recently relocated from São Paulo to Grass Valley, at a local yard sale. The GVTA member discovered Edwards was a percussionist who owned Brazilian musical instruments, and asked if she would visit her class. Edwards has been volunteering in the classroom on a regular basis, helping students with Brazilian art and music projects — including teaching students how to samba.
“The global studies program has reinvigorated our school,” says Paul. “Teachers and students alike are excited to come to school. I would have to say, at this point, the program is working wonderfully and teachers are beyond thrilled at the excitement and growth they are seeing in their students.”