Diploma program prepares central Ohio high school students for global economy

April 6, 2018

The Columbus Dispatch

Danae King

Social studies teacher James Lang wants students in his rural district to meet people from other countries and understand “the world’s very big” and stretches far beyond Buckeye Valley High School in Delaware.

But diversity isn’t something high school students in central Ohio always encounter in their classrooms.

That’s why Lang began working with the Columbus Council on World Affairs two years ago and now has 66 Buckeye Valley students enrolled in the nonprofit group’s Global Scholars Diploma program, which teaches young people how to work with those from different cultures and backgrounds.

The program aims to introduce students to different ideas and people so they’re better equipped to work in a global business world. It also helps students meet with people from different countries, such as refugees from Somalia and Syria, so they have a better understanding of their lives and the challenges they face.

“It puts a human face on these issues we’re discussing,” said Lang, who’s noticed his students are able to have deeper discussions about international news now that they’ve been involved in the program.

The program started five years ago with 40 students from Columbus North International School and Granville High School. There are currently about 900 students from 20 districts involved, said Brad Gosche, the council’s vice president of education and communications. Next year, the program is expected to expand to 1,200 students.

“The end goal is that they have developed the skills, knowledge and mindset to be an effective and successful global leader,” Gosche said.

The program, which is elective, is implemented differently in each school, but is “for all students,” he said. It was started after high schools approached the council and expressed a need to prepare students for the “world beyond our walls,” he said.

Students participate for three years, and in their third year they are required to find an issue that is global and local that they can make a real-life impact on. When they complete the project and the program, they go to a council “graduation” and get a cord and gold seal that goes on their high school diploma.

About 70 students from four central Ohio school districts participated in a refugee simulation last Tuesday at Franklin University, which showed them what it’s like to flee their native country and be a stranger in a new world. The week before, another group of students had done the same, and more did so on Thursday.

As part of the exercise, organizers told the students that their peers were their “new family” and they would journey to an unknown new country with the other seven or so “refugees” at their table.

As Jenna Azotea, a program lead with the council, led the students through their journey, they had to get rid of their belongings, come together when a family member was injured and use all their money for transportation costs. Like many real-life refugees, many of the students arrived in their new country with nothing, knowing no one.

When the exercise was over, the students talked about how refugees are seen by people in the country they settle in and whether they are welcomed in their new country. They compared their experiences in the simulation with those of real-life refugees and discussed such things as how they might feel ostracized for being different.

“Today is about global issues awareness. We want them thinking about what they’re passionate about … and ways they can impact global issues,” Gosche said.

Kolesen McCoy, an 18-year-old senior at Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield, said it was “very encouraging to see people come together and talk about real world issues and share perspectives openly.”

Those discussions have helped Lauren Cox, a 17-year-old junior at Buckeye Valley High School, become more open-minded.

“It helps you to be a better person overall,” she said. “We deal with a lot of heavy issues here, really current and very politically charged. … It’s learning from each other and seeing their point, their idea.”

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