Student Well-Being Opinion

Five Steps to Encourage Global Citizenship

By Anthony Jackson — November 01, 2013 7 min read
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Here are five things any after-school program can do to give youth the global experiences they need to thrive in an interconnected world. The Partnership for After School Education’s Yvonne Brathwaite shares pointers from their successful program.

by Yvonne M. Brathwaite

“I see trees of green, red roses, too... wait, no. I don’t.”

In preparation for a recent webinar I led on Community Asset Mapping, I asked Bank Street College graduate students in Leadership in Community Based Learning to take a short walk in their neighborhoods and submit a paragraph describing the assets they saw. The opening words above were written by Claire, who works in the New York City financial district. As a fellow “financial districter” I understood her immediately. But reading her opening line also immediately brought Louie Armstrong’s tune into my head and since then, I haven’t been able to shake it.

So I invite you to take a walk with me...and Louie...and Claire...through New York City--a place full of assets that support global learning from a local perspective. As we stroll along we do, in fact, start to see green trees and green grass in open spaces in places from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Central Park to Van Cortlandt Park--all places that not only offer places for kids to play, but can open a world of environmental exploration connected to a study of water, plants, and air in other countries. As we continue to explore the City we see “friends shaking hands” and maybe they are the local business owners from the Korean laundromat, Dominican bodega, and African-American barbershop--who all share the same block, the same customers, and maybe the same dreams. How great it would be to have youth interview them to learn about their backgrounds, cultures, and aspirations! And at the same time maybe these business owners can share lessons about responsibility, communication, and commitment--all qualities needed to be successful global citizens. As we conclude our walk, we consider that while we may not often see rainbows in the sky, we do see the diverse colors reflected “on the faces of people going by” through an array of cultures, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, life choices, and more.

At the Partnership for After School Education (PASE) we believe that the ability to understand complex global issues, exposure to and comfort with cultures other than one’s own, and the ability to work in groups are skills that are critical to young peoples’ success. As a child-focused organization providing more than 1,600 afterschool programs with professional development and capacity building services, PASE promotes and supports quality afterschool programs, particularly those serving young people from underserved communities. For young people living in poverty, afterschool programs are often the sole connection to the larger world and to understanding their home and neighborhood cultures in a larger context.

However, often times afterschool educators think that to support global learning, they have to offer international activities believing that they don’t “do” global learning if they don’t have a travel program or are not connecting their youth with people across the globe. PASE’s Brooklyn Explorers Program offers examples of how youth can experience global learning through local exploration. Brooklyn Explorers provides young people the opportunity to discover the strengths of their own and other neighborhoods by incorporating community exploration through activities such as neighborhood mapping; interviewing; oral, written and web-based presentations; and reflection exercises. Through this experience youth are able to see the larger context of the world in which they live. At the same time, this approach helps young people build skills essential to be successful global citizens including critical thinking, technology, teamwork, creativity, and communication.

The Brooklyn Explorers program includes five core activities, described below, that help youth investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action--no matter what neighborhood you call home.

Neighborhood Walk: Map out an area around your program and take the youth on a walk to explore and find community assets such as physical spaces, economic assets, infrastructure, local institutions, and individual community members, to name a few. They should take photos, video clips, and record sounds of what they see and hear--all things that bring a community to life. Along the way, stop to do mini-interviews of local business owners, community members, and others, building their skills in asking questions and drawing conclusions once they’ve gathered information. Youth should map out the assets they identify and talk about why these are good for the community. The most important thing to remember is that both staff and youth need to approach this exploration with different perspectives, and be prepared to see things differently--and hopefully in a positive light. While asset mapping is designed to find positive things in the community, youth will also begin to notice what is missing. Having conversations about what is lacking in the community can lead to group advocacy efforts.

Cross-Site Learning Visits: Find another youth program or school that you can visit and host. Have kids interview each other and share information about their neighborhood and background. Maybe they can even give a short tour of their community, providing youth with an opportunity to identify similarities and differences. If you’re not able to make the visit in person, do virtual tours using technology tools that allow you to connect with each other “live” and establish a pen pal program so that youth can exchange information with each other.

Field Trip to Cultural Institutions: Some of the greatest global learning experiences for youth are trips to cultural institutions. It is through these institutions that youth can build bridges between the exploration of art, STEM (which stands for “science, technology, engineering, math”), history, and other subject areas and learning about the world. Moreover, research has found that these trips “contribute to the development of students...who possess more knowledge of art, have stronger critical thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.” You should allow youth the chance to explore cultural institutions as often as possible and discuss with them what they saw and learned and how this is connected to our global community. Our Brooklyn Explorers participants visited such places as the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Canarsie Cemetery, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Brooklyn Bridge through the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.

Website Development: Youth synthesized what they learned and gathered their media (photos, videos) to create a final project: their own websites using Mozilla Webmaker Tools: Thimble and Popcorn Maker*. Thimble provides an easy way for individuals to create and share their own webpages and Popcorn Maker allows individual to create and edit videos that can be embedded into webpages. Working towards this one final project allowed youth to communicate what they learned in a creative way. If technology isn’t available, youth can still create final projects using low-tech materials such as poster boards with photos and text, dioramas, and other displays.

Culminating Event: Bring youth together to showcase their final projects and take action by communicating what they learned to a larger audience. Audience member can include everyone from the program site, parents, community members, board members, funders and other key stakeholders. Youth present their final projects, which includes a short presentation in which they share what they learned about their community, resources they utilized, characteristics of a strong community. Not only does this give youth the opportunity to practice public speaking, but it can also spark next steps such as developing service learning projects or forming partnerships with local businesses.

These examples are meant to spark ideas of what global learning in afterschool settings can be and to encourage everyone to view these experiences through a different lens. For when we do this, we become open to the great opportunities that local exploration offers in helping all of us connect within Louie’s wonderful world.

* This aspect of our program was done in collaboration with Hive Learning Network NYC in which they provided training and technical support related to use of the Webmaker tools. See samples of websites created by the Brooklyn Explorers afterschool programs.

Yvonne M. Brathwaite is associate executive director, Partnership for After School Education. Follow PASE and Asia Society on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.