A Look Inside: Academy for Global Citizenship

January 06, 2010

Today we have a special guest blog from writer and reporter Kari Lydersen about the Academy for Global Citizenship,
a unique Chicago school with a rigorous International Baccalaureate
curriculum that serves a healthy, organic breakfast and lunch every day.


 

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel grew up in Grand Rapids surrounded by people who looked “exactly like me.” After going to grad school in England, where she did a dissertation in early childhood education, she was awed to discover the richness of being surrounded by people from other races and backgrounds. She visited 100 schools in 70 countries over the next decade, and in 2002 settled in Chicago because of its ethnic diversity. In
2004 the city announced the Renaissance 2010 plan and the call for
opening 100 new schools by 2010. Ippel proposed an innovative contract school aiming to make students “global citizens” and incorporate the
International Baccalaureate program she was so impressed by in schools from Kenya to Venezuela.

 

Getting her proposal approved was a challenge, Ippel said, partly because her group was not a nationwide organization with a track record like Edison
or KIPP, and partly because the challenging IB curriculum is more
commonly instituted in schools in higher income areas, as opposed to
the
low-income, mostly immigrant southwest side neighborhood of Archer Heights where Ippel’s school would be located.


“That made us even more determined to do it,” Ippel said.


In 2008 the Academy for Global Citizenship opened its doors, making it one of the first Chicago schools
to implement the IB program for primary school. She hopes to add an
early childhood IB program. The students, whose mascot is the orca,
learn about different countries and cultures as an intrinsic part of
the school day; they learn English and Spanish from day one and yoga
and organic lunch and breakfast made on the premises are a regular part
of each day.

 

Students
have become so accustomed to getting electricity from solar panels,
composting with worm bins, recycling and worrying about climate change
(one teacher went to the Arctic with Earthwatch last year and
communicated with students over
Skype)
that now kids have parents turning the lights off while they are
cooking dinner and insisting on walking to school instead of being
dropped off.
A wind turbine (not yet hooked up to
a generator) spins in front of an ecologically friendly playground and
garden; and solar panels are on the roof.

 

“We
have parents coming in asking how to get started with the worm bins,”
said Ippel. “Their kids refuse to throw anything away, they save orange
peels in bags to bring to school
to compost.”

 

At lunch on Oct. 1 when I visited,
African American, Latino and white kids were scrambling to outdo each
other in telling stories of their travels to a rooftop garden with bee
hives
, a farm and their
composting experiences. They talked about composting, recycling and
gardening as if those are everyday topics for any kindergartner.
They
didn’t notice that the meal included no fried or sugary food, and they
asked young staff politely for more apple sauce and soy milk, one of
them asking me, “Have you drank your milk yet today?”

They also described a teacher’s recent trip to Tanzania. A kindergarten teacher will soon start a unit on Peru, where she traveled and visited schools last summer. They will talk on Skype with students in Peru.

 

In late September Ippel met with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff and other officials in the Department of Agriculture and toured the White House organic garden. (“Is the White House really big?” “Did you say hi to Obama?” students asked her at lunch.)

 

Food
has become central to her educational and lifestyle philosophy, and the
students have a six-month hands-on unit on where food comes from along
with units on water,
rain forests and other subjects. In Washington she traded ideas with staff at  Sidwell Friends (where the Obama daughters attend) and another IB school about integrating global citizenship and food justice into curricula.



HSC applauds the
efforts of Sarah Elizabeth Ippel and the Academy for Global Citizenship
to make healthy school food an integral, beloved part of every school
day. We extend a special thanks to Kari Lydersen for spotlighting this
school for HSC's readers.