Collegiate School welcomed 20 high school students from five countries last week for the annual International Emerging Leaders Conference.
Perspective — that particular elucidating insight that brings us all closer together — is an important aspect of growth. Perspective involves attention and awareness and compassion, and it’s what opens us up to the world.
Collegiate’s 12th annual International Emerging Leaders Conference (IELC), a global event held on campus that brings Collegiate students and their peers from around the world together for collaboration and connection, has a focus grounded in that beneficial practice of broadening perspectives for the greater good.
Throughout the immersive weeklong conference, 20 international students from Ghana, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Morocco came together with seven Seniors at Collegiate to solve environmental challenges facing each of their countries. Collegiate Seniors are involved in the conference as part of their IELC Senior Capstone class. Rigorous and engaging, IELC creates a dynamic approach to learning about — and changing — the world.
“This program brings to life classroom learning in a real world context,” says Rhiannon Boyd, Director of JK-12 Capstones. “It’s guided by our commitment to responsible citizenship, which empowers engaged and contributing citizens by nurturing compassion, creativity and purpose.”
By removing the boundaries of campuses and countries to focus on the future of the world, students recognize that citizenship is not limited to one provincial locality. “The global perspective gives students a better understanding of their world,” says Sandra Olavarrieta, the visiting faculty member from Collegiate’s partner school in Mexico. “Often, we think of our issues as local issues that we solve locally. But then we realize that all of us share the same air, the same land, the same trees. We share an environment. This week helps students open their horizons, showing them that collaboration with other countries can help solve our problems.”
Those problems are severe and urgent, and they affect us all. Using the design thinking process, groups worked to come up with solutions to environmental issues such as imagining ways to reduce the impact of recurring drought in Italy and discovering solutions to wildfires in Kazakhstan. To help inform their thinking, students heard from various speakers and visited local universities. The deep bonds established between them compelled more discoveries. Students learned that by thinking together as a collective group, the future brightens.
“When you are able to connect with everyone, and you get to know them on a more personal level, it makes it easier to work together with everyone in the conference,” says Angelica Joseph, a student from the Ghana International School. “That’s added to the educational aspect. You’re learning with people that you’ve grown to love, and that makes it all the more interesting, because then you begin thinking about solutions that are going to help people and suddenly everything is human-centered.”
As students discussed the possibilities of how to envision their world differently, they were encouraged to consider how institutions can be both economically and environmentally sustainable and how local citizens are affected by their surroundings. The challenge of incorporating various perspectives in order to attain a solution often promotes opportunities for students to grow as collaborators and critical thinkers.
“We’re working together and discovering things about ourselves and about our classmates,” says Lorenzo Bracciali, a student from Italy. “We’re doing deep explorations into relationships and making discoveries. And I think that’s helping us grow as both students and people.”
The international students and teachers also experience life at an American school and become part of our community. Delegates spent time with the JK-12 Collegiate students, shared aspects of their cultures and traveled to both Washington, D.C. and around the city of Richmond. For visiting faculty, observing Collegiate’s classroom settings often proves to be fruitful.
“As a teacher, I feel as though I’m learning just as much as the students,” says Amina Erreda, a teacher from George Washington Academy in Morocco. “We also use design thinking in our classrooms, but seeing how it’s done here and how Mrs. Boyd has approached the workshop has been a professional development opportunity. I’m already thinking of taking these lessons and implementing them in my classrooms.”
Some students felt that, because of IELC, their understanding of what is possible in the world instantly expanded. The relationships formed during IELC deepened their ties to the world and, through those connections, the students evolved. “Getting together with diverse cultures and perspectives to solve issues that are challenging countries everywhere has been amazing,” says Talbot Spraker ’23, a Collegiate student. “Having that level of differing perspectives has been enlightening, and that’s shown me another way to approach global problems. This has probably been the most life changing thing that I’ve ever done at Collegiate.”