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Oakwood Friends School Prepares Students to Change the World

Having just seen athletes join together in competition for the Olympics reminds us of the diversity of views, religions, and cultures across the globe. How do schools meet the challenges of preparing students to live in such a diverse world and make it better? “Global education initiatives in schools can vary from partnerships with other schools, to service learning exchanges, to academic classes with content focused on international affairs,” says Anna Bertucci, associate head of school at Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie. “Global education initiatives are essential for preparing young people to meet the challenges of poverty, human trafficking, hunger, and environmental sustainability among others. These are moral issues and if we want to reduce human suffering and advance global collaboration, schools need to make sure they are interweaving ethical understanding into their curriculum. This approach ensures students are not just cross-culturally competent, but sophisticated about making sense of how morality and cultural differences intersect.”

Integrating ethical inquiry into a global curriculum

At Oakwood Friends, ethical inquiry begins in the sixth grade and is woven into the curriculum all the way through senior year.  Experiential global education includes service learning in the local community, cultural exchanges, and a course of study that stresses collaborative work and depth over breadth. Bertucci emphasizes that embedding an ethical component is crucial for students to make the learning a part of who they are. “It allows an opportunity for ethics to be experienced, which is an emotionally powerful thing,” she notes. “It is more likely to transform the learner. Students gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world when they are challenged to study and understand certain world views that are sometimes vastly different than their own.”   

Blending the international perspective throughout the curriculum

To create a truly global perspective, Oakwood Friends integrates an international emphasis to many aspects of its curriculum. They also add ethical inquiry to existing subjects, including arts, science, literature, and history. Bertucci says, “We show students how to pay attention to the claims we make in discussions or in readings. For example, we ask them to consider what assumptions might be made in a claim? Is the claim born from a particular world view, ideology, or belief set? And how does this influence our understanding?”

Drawing on a diverse learning community

Oakwood Friends draws on the experiences and diversity of their student body both in the classroom and around the campus.  In the past 10 years, students have hailed from Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Ghana, India, Japan, Korea, Niger, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, Spain, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, and Vietnam. These students, along with their classmates from the local Hudson Valley, create a truly diverse learning community. Bertucci says, “Having people from around the world who are part of their community and embedded in their lives creates a rich experience. Today’s students will need to address complex global issues. Nurturing the ability to listen to, respect, and collaborate with classmates and community members from different races, religions, orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds are key to the educational process.”  

Taking action

Learning is only step one for students. Bertucci says that the goal is to create students who can make positive changes in our world. At Oakwood Friends there are multiple programs that integrate the learning with action. Two examples in the High School are the Global Affairs Certificate Program and the United Nations Human Rights Internship program.

The Global Affairs Certificate Program is a capstone project for seniors, which includes one to two years of independent research on a topic of their own design. Some recent topics students researched and presented include child marriage, tracing the production of a garment from fiber to landfill, and the blood diamond trade. Bertucci says students learn a great deal from each other as they share these projects.

Each year, five students also work with the United Nations Association of the Hudson Valley as interns, helping plan and implement a number of human rights events in New York City and the Hudson Valley. This year they organized a panel discussion at the Eleanor Roosevelt House on migrant farmer labor laws and refugee immigration policy. They also ran a workshop for New York City high school students on how to how to host an event.“These programs are examples of students being able to act now on their interests and desire to solve world problems,” Bertucci adds.

Learn more about Oakwood Friends School, its programs and its global citizenship programs at www.oakwoodfriends.org or visit the students and faculty at their Open House Wednesday October 5th.

Oakwood Friends School
22 Spackenkill Rd
(845) 462-4200

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