March 2011 Issue
Window to the World
Private high schools offer international travel and a global curriculum.
Eighteen-year-old Jessica O’Neil of Chagrin Falls has been curious about the world for as long as she can remember. Her aunt provided some of the initial intrigue.
“(My aunt) works for the government, and I have always been fascinated by her life,” O’Neil says. “She travels a lot and has lived all over the world.”
Fortunately, O’Neil is a 2010 graduate of Hathaway Brown School
in Shaker Heights, where a global focus is part of the curriculum. Not only was she able to participate in the school’s unique Global Scholars Program, but she also traveled to India during winter break of her junior year. These experiences contributed to her decision to attend Johns Hopkins University, where she is currently a freshman studying international relations.
“It’s a cool continuation of what we did at Hathaway Brown,” she says.
O’Neil’s story is becoming increasingly common as private high schools throughout the state incorporate programs and international experiences for students. The overall goal is to help students gain a broader perspective of the world in which they live.
Joe Vogel, director of the Center for Global Citizenship at Hathaway Brown, oversees the school’s international travel experiences. This year, 11 trips are scheduled, with about 35 percent of the upper school traveling overseas. Beginning next year, about 85 to 90 percent of Hathaway Brown graduates will have had an international experience while at the school. Most of the trips are to developing countries, places like El Salvador, Peru, India, China and Turkey. And every trip has a different focus, adopting the notion that one-size-fits-all trips are less meaningful.
During high school, O’Neil traveled to India with Vogel and several other classmates. “That trip really opened my eyes,” she says. “We talked to amazing, interesting people about the changing role of women in Indian society. We learned that women are redefining the roles of gender throughout the country.”
Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy
(CHCA) in Cincinnati offers similar opportunities, beginning with a two-week winter term during which many of the students travel abroad. The trips are designed to enhance the curriculum and serve as an opportunity for service learning. In January, students traveled to Greece, Italy, France, Kenya, Jamaica and Mexico.
“It’s a chance for teachers, based on their disciplines, to create hands-on classes,” says Dean Nicholas, principal. “And it’s a great opportunity for our kids to get out and see the world.”
The experiences vary greatly. Some are service-oriented, while others, such as a recent trip to Israel, focus on ancient and modern studies. A popular trip to the Virgin Islands combines sea kayaking and marine biology. And the music students who recently traveled to Kenya were not only able to perform their music, but also had the opportunity to visit the slums of Nairobi, experience a safari, study the AIDS issue and travel to rural villages.
“We talk about creating lifelong learners. It’s not only about what happens sitting at a desk,” Nicholas says.
But international travel is by no means the full extent of these programs. For instance, Hathaway Brown’s Global Scholars Program is a stand-alone curriculum that begins during a student’s freshman year with a focus on foundational knowledge about the world.
Sophomores and juniors are then combined in a class where they study topics that change yearly. “This year, for instance, we looked at contemporary India since 1947, Russia and its relationship with its neighbors, the Persian Gulf region and Kenya,” Vogel says. “We learned about global crime, from drug trafficking to slave labor. In all, we cover five to six topics in a year — or 10 to 12 during their time in the program.” Seniors then choose one of several Capstone courses — International Relations, Art History, Economic Policy or Contemporary American Politics in Society.
Hosting students from other countries is another way to learn about the world. CHCA offers a Global Students Program, an opportunity for several students from other countries to attend the upper school while living with host families. These international students complete high school at CHCA and matriculate into an
American university. “We want our students to realize that other countries are not just places that always need our help,” Nicholas says. “We have things to learn from other countries as well.”
In central Ohio, Columbus Academy
has been facilitating student and teacher exchanges with Hefei, capital of the Chinese province Anhui, since the late 1990s. The exchanges are part of the school’s East Asia Institute, which also includes six years of Chinese language studies built into the curriculum. While teachers typically visit for one or two weeks, students stay longer and participate in classes, allowing for more intensive studies of the language and the culture. During the same period, Chinese students attend Columbus Academy.
Although the focus has been on China, Academy students have traveled elsewhere. “We have taken a group to the Philippines to help a community rebuild after a landslide,” says Kyle Tong, history teacher at Columbus Academy. “And we have taken groups to the Himalayas, where we helped with a community water project.” While some of these trips tend to be more service-oriented, the travels to China are focused on education.
“What makes this program unique is that there are deep roots,” he says. “That is a cultural value. It is not short-term, but rather it can evolve naturally and slowly.”
As these programs continue to grow, in the end, the most fascinating aspect may be the long-term impact they have on the students. Some, like O’Neil, decide to pursue some type of international studies after high school.
“I knew I wanted to do something with travel,” she says. “But my experience at Hathaway Brown really opened my eyes to the fact that it could actually be a career rather than just an interest.”