Making the Grade: Atlanta school expands international program

Holy Innocents Episcopal School senior Kennedy Suttle admits the first time she got an email about attending a program in South Africa, she deleted it. It took some coaxing from her mom to make her reconsider.

“She pointed out that I’m in the school’s global citizenship program, and I’ve never been anywhere,” said Suttle, who eventually applied for the program and was accepted. “It was the first time I was out of the country.”

Holy Innocents was able to offer the September trip to three faculty members and three students through Round Square, an international consortium of more than 180 schools in 50 countries. It provides members opportunities to collaborate and share learning experiences with peers around the globe through conferences, community service projects and exchanges. Earlier this year, the 1,300-student Sandy Springs school became the first in Georgia to join the network, and the Cape Town gathering was the first annual conference it sent delegates to.

Joining Round Square offered not just the chance to send more students abroad but also provided a way to strengthen the school’s commitment to global citizenship, said Erik Vincent, HIES director of global studies.

“We were very interested in rebooting the sister-school exchange program we had in Japan, France, South Africa and Argentina,” he said. “Round Square brings together schools interested in this type of collaboration. They’re also interested in global citizenship, environmental stewardship and service learning, so we saw Round Square as an opportunity to broaden our conversation around globalization as well as to offer more than occasional travel opportunities for faculty and students.”

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The Round Square program also encourages schools to engage with one another, and those connections have already come into the HIES curriculum in various ways, Vincent added.

“One of my colleagues who went to Cape Town connected with a boys’ grammar school in Bangladesh where they’ve been studying what’s happening with Rohingya in Burma, for instance,” he said. “Our primary school principal has identified two schools in India that he’s started a pen-pal relationship with.”

Another collaborative opportunity comes in the summer when Round Square hosts a week-long service learning project for students and adults. “We’re looking ahead to 2019 as another opportunity for our students to experience a different kind of program that’s not a conference but that also pays attention to service and adventure,” said Vincent. “We’re also exploring shorter professional and development opportunities for our teachers and administrators on how to turn these ideas into academic practice using specific curriculum materials, such as lesson plans.”

Round Square’s annual, week-long conference is the highlight of the year, offering time for extended discussion and learning through simulations and debates. The emphasis is always on drawing on resources offered in the conference city, said Vincent, “so the site itself often becomes an active case study.” While at the conference, students stay in the homes of host families, where they’re immersed in the local culture. HIES is currently planning on sending a delegation to the next conference in Bogota in April.

Having the chance to spend time in Cape Town with other high schoolers from around the globe opened new perspectives to studies and her life in Atlanta, Suttle said.

“I met people from India, South Korea – almost any place you can think of,” she said. “I wish the program had lasted longer, but now through social media, I have connections with kids in Columbia, Australia and Germany, and we share the cool experiences we have at home. And I found there were more similarities than differences among us.”

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