Pace applies pandemic lessons

Pace Academy students are studying global health through research, classwork, travel and community engagement.

Pace Academy students are studying global health through research, classwork, travel and community engagement.

This school year, students at Pace Academy are digging into global health issues. That would seem appropriate, given the pandemic sweeping the planet. But there was something prescient in the plan to study this topic: The decision to do so was made three years ago.

“It’s a little ironic that this is the year we ended up in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Tricia Anderson, director of the Isdell Center for Global Leadership at the Buckhead school. “The decision had nothing to do with the pandemic. We work in three-year chunks. For this section, water, food and conservation were the first topics; climate, energy and waste were next. Then came this year: global health and education.”

The Isdell Center, launched six years ago, aims to educate Pace students in kindergarten through high school about skills, attitudes and information that will serve them as global citizens. Its namesake, former Coca-Cola CEO Neville Isdell, was instrumental in funding the program.

“Neville always pushed us about what we were doing to prepare kids to be globally ready,” said Anderson. “He’d say there is no job a kid will walk into that doesn’t have some global component.”

The center’s programs include community engagement and national or international travel. On campus, the focus is on a specific global issue that’s embedded in the curriculum for a year.

“It brings the community together around a topic we can delve into,” said Anderson. “By highlighting a global theme, we can apply academic knowledge in all different ways. It helps develop a cultural appreciation of how different societies deal with these problems as well as a global mindset around cultures, genders and more.”

In the upper school, students delve into rhetoric and language around the annual topic in academic papers, articles and editorials. Math and computer science classes work with data and statistics. Lower and middle schoolers tackle concrete concerns around the theme that this year include looking at diseases that inspired medical inventions, what issues modern medicine is tackling now and what treatments are being created to address the current crisis.

“There’s a heightened awareness since they’ve been learning and reading about [the pandemic],” said Anderson. “There’s a lot of knowledge we can harness that might not have been there in the past.”

Junior Pranavh Pradeep is part of the center’s Global Scholar program, and after spending last year studying health programs around HIV/AIDS, was excited to continue the health theme this year.

“What first sparked my interest was doing Model UN, where I learned about the World Health Organization and its impact on global health, especially in third-world countries,” he said. “This program offers an understanding that goes beyond the classroom setting. We’re immersing ourselves in reading about what’s happening around the migration of the virus and people, and trying to understand how global health affects the world population.”

Senior Olivia Ullmann is interested in a medical career and sees the program as a chance to effect change, even if it’s just by passing out hand sanitizers to fellow students.

“It gives me the chance to change things in my community and to speak with peers who have the same interests,” she said. “I’ve gotten the chance to do research, learn information to create pamphlets and speak with professionals on this topic. It’s been amazing to hear other people’s perspectives.”

It turns out a global pandemic has valuable teaching moments, said Anderson.

“Our kids are living in the middle of something real that is a true global issue,” she said. “The idea that the world has to work together to solve some problems is a hurdle we don’t have to help them see.”

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