The Global Scholars Program is a three-year interdisciplinary course that focuses on global awareness, critical thinking, and leadership skills for the 21st century. Each year centers around project-based learning with relevant topics drawn from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Students develop global competency skills and work toward understanding growth mindsets, dispositions, and design thinking skills by investigating the world and taking action through research and authentic tasks.
The requirements to enter the program are an interest in global issues, a desire to engage in authentic learning, and a willingness to take action to make a difference. Year 1 of the program focuses on an introduction to the most significant issues facing our world today including poverty, human rights, and the environment. This seminar-style class, taught by an interdisciplinary team of teachers, helps students recognize multiple perspectives on both local and global issues, and helps develop skills needed to take action.
During Year 2, students continue to expand their global understanding through group and independent projects and develop an individual learning plan to investigate a global issue of their choosing. Through the utilization of design thinking, they cultivate empathy, conduct in-depth research, and take action to address their chosen universal challenge.
The 2019-2020 school year included three projects for Year 2 students. The first was to study Hurricane Dorian's effect on the Bahamas and was used primarily to practice empathy interviews. “Although students could not conduct interviews themselves, they viewed interviews conducted by others. They began to understand that if you want to help people, you first must learn from the people you are looking to help,” said Ms. Jen Laden, Byram Hills Social Studies Chair. “They researched charities and made a recommendation of an appropriate one to raise donations for.”
For their second project, students had to develop a plan to encourage Westchester residents to complete the 2020 Census. They were required to conduct research, interview stakeholders, collect data, identify problem areas, and develop a realistic action plan.
Student groups wrote emails, made calls, and scheduled appointments for interviews with various local organizations. “This was one of the best elements of the process,” said Mr. Duane Smith, Byram Hills English Chair. “Rather than viewing their teachers as the sole purveyors of knowledge, the students used interviews to learn from various individuals in the field.”
One successful outcome of the project came from a student group that created a public service announcement video targeting an immigrant community in Mount Kisco. The five group members collaborated with the Advanced Via Individual Determination (AVID) class at Fox Lane High School to identify and reach out to trusted community members. Neighbors Link, an organization that provides services and education for the immigrant community, helped make the decision to produce the video in Spanish with English subtitles to effectively reach their intended market.
“What I got most out of this project was how impactful design thinking can be. This is a fool-proof way to be successful,” said Lindsey Noel, a Global Scholars student. “I will take these skills with me through the rest of my education and into the workforce.”
Students chose their own topics for the third project. “They started with research on their problem, conducted empathy interviews, developed action plans, and right in the middle of that great work, the pandemic hit,” Ms. Laden said. “Students then altered their ideas and many developed social media campaigns to raise awareness about their issue.
Skylar Silverstein, Byram Hills senior, focused on the increase of current adolescent mental health issues. “The most important thing I learned was how to be flexible and professional while working virtually,” expressed Skylar. She is currently creating activities and workshops about youth mental health and socialization.
Alexa Tusiani, Byram Hills senior, chose the topic of how factory farming impacts various systems within our society and government. “Many people are not aware that this system involves raising livestock under harsh and confining conditions or the negative stigma surrounding becoming vegan,” said Alexa. “I wanted to change that perception and demonstrate the many positive aspects of a plant-based lifestyle.” Alexa learned the importance of researching various perspectives of an issue, and how valuable it is to listen to others.
“Seniors explore their leadership abilities and hone their skills using the leadership practices of Kouzes and Posner as a framework,” said Ms. Melissa Stahl, World Languages Chair. “Year 3 students culminate the year by synthesizing all of their learned mindsets, design thinking, and leadership skills and develop a global summit for the freshmen class.”
The Global Scholars Program has just completed its first three-year cycle and continues to draw approximately 50 new students each year with over 100 students in the program.