Yadkin County may not seem to be the most likely location for global education, but Starmount High School on the forefront of the global education program.
“Parents want their kids to learn the basics and they don’t think global education falls into the basics and that’s where they are wrong,” said Nanette Shover, a Starmount High teacher. “Our students have to learn to communicate, understand cultural differences and work with people from around the world. They are going to be competing for jobs in the same place and if they don’t understand these cultural differences then there’s no competition.’
Shover and Joy Kinley, another Starmount High teacher, have been working on the global education program at Starmount since its beginnings four years ago. It hasn’t been an easy transition. The start was subtle with the installation of world clocks in the lobby area outside the main office.
“The year we started this we had a lot of flak from parents and the day we put up the clocks to represent the major cities in every time zone our phones were ringing off the hook with people asking why we are spending money on this,” Shover said. “What they didn’t understand was that it wasn’t coming from any kind of school fund; we had raised the money outside of school sources so I think once the community found out that we weren’t spending their money they were OK with it.”
Shover said that a large number of the freshman students don’t realize that there are different time zones before they ask about the clocks at the school.
The school has also assigned each building to represent a different continent. Those buildings house maps of their respective continents and details about them so that students can understand how different they are.
Next, the school created a global speaker series that welcomes people from around the world to come speak to the entire student body about their country and the culture there.
“This has proven to be very popular with the students,” Shover said. “We bring in people from other countries to share about their culture, their resources, their economic situation, the differences in food, what the teenagers do there and their religions because that has a big effect on their culture.”
Shover said that most of the speakers the school has hosted so far have been her or Kinley’s personal contacts. Other speakers come from nearby colleges or universities.
“The colleges and universities do have such a large pool of international students and faculty that are more than willing to come,” Kinley said. “We have several colleges within an hour’s drive and those students and faculty want to share their country and their culture so we’ve had a lot of speakers who’ve come to us that way.”
Starmount High also hosts a three day international festival every spring during the last week of March, which draws the attention of several neighboring school systems. Students are put in charge of creating presentations for 30 countries. They contact embassies, consulate generals and leaders in their respective country and request information for their presentation.
“You would be amazed at the information that these kids get back,” Shover said. “They will get personal letters from leaders, from embassies and we even had a student receive a personal letter from the leader of Serbia inviting them to visit. We receive boxes of information that we can use to demonstrate different cultures.”
Shover said that the program has been so successful that Starmount has been contacted by several school systems asking if they could participate so they can see how it is executed. Shover said that due to the massive scale of the project the teachers decided that they would create a short documentary this year to share with other school systems so they can experience the full scope of the project.
“We felt that for these teachers to just come watch the festival wasn’t giving them the whole view, they need to see the process from the beginning to the end,” Shover said. “So this year we are going to film the process and make a small documentary on how this process is achieved and then hold a workshop at the end so teachers from other schools can attend to see how it was put together.”
The most impressive aspect of Starmount High’s global program is its exchange program with a sister school in Denmark. Every fall students who’ve completed the application process can travel to Denmark and spend a week with a host family while they attend the sister school, take educational tours with their host siblings and learn what it’s like to be a typical family in Denmark.
“A lot of people have asked us why we chose Denmark,” Shover said. “Denmark and Finland are among the top three of the world in education. Even our own state board of education and (Gov.) Bev Perdue have been to Denmark to study their education systems so it only seemed natural to us to select Denmark as a sister school so that we can understand where our own state is trying to take us in education.”
Kinley said that there is no limit on how many students can go on the trip and that it costs each student $2,000 to go on the trip. Each student is responsible for raising their own funds to go. Kinley said that most students raise money by hosting sales or by requesting donations from family and friends.
“We do give them letters on school letterhead so that people know that it’s a legitimate project,” Kinley said. “People can mail check donations in the student’s name and then the school will credit the money to the student’s account.”
Kinley said that many business and committees have learned about the program over the last few years and have started making yearly contributions that are divided up amongst the participants.
Kinley said that students are responsible for maintaining their schoolwork while they are in Denmark while also attending and participating in the sister school’s classes. The students are also assigned a research project while they are away. The students can choose an area of Denmark culture that interests them and research it while they are on their trip.
When students return they are required to act as a speaker in the global speaker series and report back to the student body about what they learned while they studied abroad.
Kinley said that the global program is a labor of love for the teachers involved in it. She says that the teachers spend several hours outside of their workdays working on the project to make sure it succeeds.
“During the initial set up process we were easily spending 10 to 15 hours every day outside of our normal teaching day,” Kinley said. “During the week that we travel with the students the teachers get very little sleep for the week because we’re constantly fielding email from parents while accompanying the students through their days.”
Shover said that she feels that it’s important that teachers take opportunities to travel so they can integrate it into their teaching.
“We do encourage teachers to travel because until you’ve been there yourself you don’t understand and once you do it you have that passion,” Shover said. “I think the teachers who have experienced other countries understand and they have passion and they’re bringing it to the classroom and the students can feel it.”
Kinley said that there are currently no plans to extend the exchange program to other countries but she said that the teachers are working with teachers in other countries to set up collaborative lessons that can be achieved through Skype or other technological advances.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.