Head of School Blog

Global Exchange for 21st Century Learners

Libby Vino
By Libby Vino, Middle School Teacher

This week our Eighth Graders are on their long-awaited trip to Ecuador, where they will spend 10 days staying with host families, attend school with their student partners, and experience the cultural and biodiversity for which this beautiful country is renown. Designed as a culminating experience to an All Saints education, this trip marks the beginning of the next stage of the students’ educational careers by giving them a real-life opportunity to utilize all of the 21st century learning skills they’ve acquired during their time at All Saints. In Ecuador, our Eighth Graders grapple with the responsibilities of being citizens of a global village, exploring the dynamic interplay of cultures, languages, environments, economics, and history.

Over the past several years, schools have been expanding their curriculum to give schools a new set of skills for success. These 21st Century Skills are comprised of seven strands:

1. Analytical and Creative Thinking and Problem Solving. Students are expected to be able to detect bias and distinguish between reliable and unsound information, control information overload, formulate meaningful questions, develop cross-disciplinary perspectives, and solve real-world problems. What better way to practice this than through a real world experience? Students process the information they’ve acquired through all of their studies and compare it with what they are actually experiencing. There is so much to learn about and enjoy, but students need to identify what is important in the moment for each task at challenge. At each site visit, students are expected to interact and communicate with our hosts and tour guides, ask meaningful questions and contribute meaningful ideas and conversation. Finally, students are involved with planning the finer details of our daily excursions, addressing “real world” problems of scheduling and time management.
2. Complex Communication. Students are expected to be able to communicate clearly with diverse audiences, listen attentively, speak effectively, explain information and compellingly persuade others of its implications, and write clearly and concisely for a variety of audiences. Students interact with their host families, craft vendors, member indigenous community groups, children in an after school program where we volunteer, and the teachers in the school they attend, making this perhaps the most diverse audience our students have ever encountered. Listening attentively and speaking effectively become even more vital when bridging a language gap. Students must self-advocate at different points along the trip, and need to do so in a polite, yet compelling manner that clearly illustrates their objectives.
3. Leadership and Teamwork. Students are expected to be able to lead through influence, build trust, resolve conflicts, and provide support for others, facilitate group discussions, forge consensus, and negotiate outcomes, collaborate sensitively and productively with people from varied backgrounds. Our class essentially travels as a large family without the convenience of that familial bond that allows us to comfortably argue or be pushy with our parents and siblings. Leadership and teamwork skills are at the forefront when working in another culture, communicating through means other than one’s native language while working to achieve a specific goal. Additionally, our students find themselves mixed into a school with over 1,000 students, a population larger than many of them have ever encountered in a school setting. They have to find their way socially, while maintaining their commitments to our itinerary and the work we will do there.
4. Digital and Quantitative Literacy. Students are expected to understand, use, and apply digital technologies, and use multimedia resources to communicate ideas effectively in a variety of formats. As digital natives, our students possess more technological literacy skills than most adults. Students use technology to interact with their homestay families through various forms of social media. The class also works collaboratively on a Keynote presentation that they will share with an audience of 80 Ecuadorian Eighth Graders and their teachers.
5. Global Perspective. Students are expected to develop open-mindedness regarding the values and traditions of others, use technology to connect with people and events globally, develop social and intellectual skills to navigate effectively across cultures, learn from and work collaboratively with individuals from diverse cultures, religions, and backgrounds, in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue, and develop facility with one or more international languages. The vast majority of our students do not speak fluent Spanish, and some do not even study Spanish, but take French instead. However, on our trip, they are expected to utilize sufficient Spanish to navigate through the experience with respect and ease. They need to be sensitive to cultural nuances, such as the distinction between formal and informal rules governing language. But most of all, students frequently surprise themselves with how much Spanish they DO know and can pick up as a result of being immersed in a Spanish speaking community.
6. Adaptability, Initiative, and Risk Taking. Students are expected to develop flexibility, adaptability, and agility, bring a sense of courage to unfamiliar situations, and explore and experiment. Everything about this trip is a test in adaptability and risk-taking. From new foods, to new people, to new experiences, students are continuously asked to step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves into all that is new and different.
7. Integrity and Ethical Decision Making. Students are expected to sustain an empathetic and compassionate outlook, act responsibly with the interests and well-being of the larger community at hand, and foster integrity, honesty, fairness, and respect. We believe our students already possess integrity and each year we marvel at how well they demonstrate it – even when out of their comfort zone. Some of these decision-making skills are really put to the test when students are asked to consider the interests of the larger community, and are expected be good sports throughout some of the stressors that group travel can create.

There are now over 850 colleges that no longer require the SAT. A 2013 survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93% of CEOs found that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than job specific training. Colleges and businesses are clearly looking for these 21st century skills in their applicants. In addition to providing the real world experience in which our students demonstrate and expand these skills, our exchange program bolsters their confidence as a culminating experience before they leave our safe community and go out into new and bigger settings to continue their education. This self-confidence, gained through hands-on experiences, is an umbrella for the many other in-demand skills they develop in our school and through our exchange program. As I write this today, our Eighth Graders are attending a school in a foreign country with over 1,600 students whose social language is different from their own. They are not only putting these skills to the test – they are passing that test with flying colors.

Questions? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com.