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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Innovative school curriculum incorporates LGBT-related issues
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2011-03-23

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Nestled in a former mansion on the corner of Clarendon and Buena in Lake View is an innovative new school called the Global Citizenship Experience (GCE) High School. The school is a college prep independent school in Chicago.

As a part of the curriculum students participate in a program called the traveling school of life, which consists of student-taught lesson plans on topics of their choice. These classes occur two days a week for 30 minutes each day.

One student who goes by the initials "ZS" (and who happens to be bisexual) chose the topic of civil unions/gay marriages. ZS said he chose this topic because of the attention it has received here in Illinois due to the new civil-unions law that will go into effect June 1.

With this lesson ZS said he was hoping for a lively discussion since the students come from all walks of life and many different countries. ZS first showed a WGN news story on the new civil-unions law before he opened the class up for discussion and questions.

"I was a little nervous to see the reactions of people because I know a few people have been affected by the whole situation of civil unions and gay marriage and I was nervous and excited to see other people's opinions. When I opened the class up for questions and discussion people didn't think twice about it except for one student who expressed some reluctance," said ZS. Instead of a lively discussion between the students on their differing views about the issue, everyone was on board with the concepts of civil unions and gay marriage. ZS said he actually had to "put himself on the con side of the issue just to allow a certain amount of debate while also keeping religion out of the discussion." Even when ZS argued the con side of the issue it still didn't spark a debate and none of the students, even the deeply religious students, changed their minds.

Eric Davis, founder and director of GCE, said the key elements of the school are a globally integrated curriculum, project-based learning and field experience. The core classes are integrated with a science/math class and a history/English class along with electives like foreign languages, global peace classes, global rhythm and poetry, coding and gaming, writers' workshop and film classes. They also participate in civil engagement with non-profit partners, said Davis.

The school day runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with 90-minute class periods. Each class has eight to 12 students, with 16 students currently enrolled this year. GCE is looking to have 30 students enrolled next year, and eventually grow from that to a maximum of 144 students. Davis emphasized that GCE wants to stay small so students can get the attention they need to grow as individuals.

The school does not rely on standardize testing to assess student progress. Teachers still assign essays, quizzes and tests on the material but they also have students do stop motion videos, podcasts, 3D projects and other multi-media projects to demonstrate student learning. Each student creates portfolios of their work which is used for assessment purposes and the college application process.

The key to the school, said ZS and Davis, is the ability for students to learn in a challenging environment free of judgment or harassment where everyone's opinion and self-expression is valued.

Next year the school will move to a new location at 1535 N. Dayton, in the Menomonee Club Drucker Center, to accommodate the growing student body. The new location will have spaces for offices and classrooms, and students will also benefit from the art, dance and sports rooms located at the club. To find out more about the school, visit www.globalcitizenshipexperience.com .


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