Impact is a byproduct of empathy and understanding. This is the basic premise behind Prep’s new Global Studies initiative.
“By looking outward, we learn to look inward,” says Ingrid Herskind, Prep’s Global Studies Coordinator. She’s spent the recent school year meeting with faculty in all academic departments, taking an inductive approach to the question, “What will Prep’s Global Studies program look like?”
Some essentials are already clear—the program will capitalize on features that have already proven to be successful at Prep. In addition, under Herskind’s leadership, the program will be in tune with guidelines from the National Association of Independent Schools for educating global citizens, through contextualization, application, understanding and action—all of which are fostered through long-term exposure and deep relationships around the world.
“In addition to field work and research, we want to create new relationships and build projects, not just trips,” says Herskind. She looks to the school’s Nicaragua program, which began in 2011 and is helmed by Spanish teacher Señor Manuel Nuñez, for inspiration.
“It’s incredible—well rooted, involving language acquisition, community service and deep relationships. That’s what we want,” she says. But thinking globally and taking action don’t require a trip around the world, Herskind emphasizes.
“You don’t have to look far to take action. As Manny likes to say, Los Angeles is an international city. You can connect problems in the world with action at home.”
Such is the case with the recent independent study project by Jeff Chan ’18. As the faculty advisor, Herskind provided a structure and guidance for Jeff on a topic in which he was already deeply immersed.
The project, “Voices of Migration: Stories from the Refugee Journey,” began for Jeff in the summer of 2017 when he traveled to Berlin, Germany, to volunteer for a non-profit organization called Pass the Crayon, which facilitates the integration of refugee children using art.
Chan’s experience in Berlin opened his eyes to what he calls “the challenges of mass migration,” and since returning home he has maintained his relationships, seeking to hear stories of migration in the voices of the migrants themselves.
Herskind spent much of the summer of 2017 in Eastern Europe as part of the Fulbright-Hays Seminar program, where she studied the internal and external migration, and issues in Bulgaria, a country that has lost 8 million citizens since joining the European Union over 10 years ago. The program also examined the influx of refugees since 2015 along the route from Syria through Turkey and Bulgaria, and Herskind visited refugee camps in the region.
Both student and teacher had deeply impactful experiences, though each was very different. Through dialogue with Herskind, Chan developed an independent study that examined the causes and impacts of the refugee crisis while also emphasizing the power of personal storytelling and dialogue. Chan interviewed a refugee from Syria named Nour, as well as German refugee workers, compiling audio files for a blog he designed.
A project with such a global emphasis seemed to demand schoolwide attention, so Chan and Herskind met with the school’s Library Advisory Council to set up an interactive space in the school library for students and faculty to engage in the challenges and successes of migration through images and stories. From there, the project took on its own life, including a display of books on migration and an installation featuring life vests, backpacks and a lightweight sleeping bag. In one activity, students of all ages had an opportunity to map their own families’ migration to the US. In another activity, community members were invited to reflect on what home means to them.
The project was appealing to other members of the history faculty, as well. Seeing a connection to his own curriculum, 7th grade history teacher Will Bellaimey incorporated the migration map activity into a simulation project he was working on with students called the LA Museum of Geography. Eighth grade history teacher Sarah Cooper incorporated three days of discussion and debate on the topic of refugees in her unit on war.
Chan’s project culminated in a final report as part of the school’s annual independent study showcase, during which he played moving excerpts from his interviews with Nour. In those discussions, Nour talked about his memories of his daily walk to school in Damascus, expressing his desire to one day return to Syria. The crucial context of personal narrative created common ground and nurtured empathy, while also highlighting the incredible complexity of immigration issues.
This project is an excellent example of how Herskind will continue to integrate Global Studies into curriculum and daily life on campus.
“For now, I would love for it to feel organic, rooted—a vine that grows across the curriculum,” she says. “It would mean that more people would discuss current events, more people would read literature from outside the US, the 8th grade community impact projects could be more global and seniors could take up impact projects and independent studies. Additional global studies electives will also help.”
In fact, Flintridge Prep will introduce of a full year of global studies electives in the senior year, beginning in fall 2018. The school’s International Relations course, which has been in place for several years, will become an honors elective. In the spring, a new honors course, Border Politics: Borders, Fences and Walls, will explore migration and movement on a global level, providing an overview of the political philosophies and economic issues surrounding migration worldwide