Making the Grade: Students learn to make an impact locally and beyond

As early as middle school, Jack Dobkin was drawn to politics. “I’ve been pretty passionate about issues such as civil rights and the environment,” the East Cobb teen said. “Social studies was always my best subject.”

So when it came time to move on to high school, Dobkin opted for a magnet program that combined those interests with course work. After learning about the International Relations curriculum at North Cobb High, he decided it was an ideal fit.

“I knew if I wanted to get more serious about school, this was the perfect program for me,” Dobkin said. “I’ve loved learning about how the world works and how people interact with each other.”

Almost 500 of the Kennesaw school’s 2,800 students are part of the International Studies magnet, created in the mid-2000s around a rigorous curriculum that stresses global connections. Along with the basics of social studies, science and communicative arts, students also take advanced English and foreign language classes that finish with a certifying exam. Other courses include advanced sessions on human geography, government leadership, world and U.S. history and ecology.

“The goal is to teach them how to make an impact, both locally and beyond,” said David Stephenson, the program coordinator. “So in their junior year, they have an advanced scientific research class that includes a fully-vetted project on anything from science to humanities with international significance. The program is flexible, so there’s room to create projects that follow their interests. They then present their research publicly during their senior year; that’s the big distinction, since few people graduate with that experience.”

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The program goes beyond academic research by including real-world experiences as well. Students commit to one overseas trip that combines study with service.

“We have one to Belize that ties in ecology and biology with the human geography class, as well as anthropology,” Stephenson said. “And we have a relationship with the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State, so we can take trips with them to China. Next year, our trip will be to Greece. It’s an historical tourism trip we offer each summer.”

The demand for the program has almost doubled in the last three years, growing from 275 to 475 students. The most significant aspect of those numbers is that they now represent the entire county, not just North Cobb High.

“We’ve moved from having just kids in our local school population to being about 75 percent from outside of our zone,” Stephenson said. “We’re now pulling kids from all corners of the county, which makes this a more diverse school with lots of linguistic and socioeconomic diversity.”

The program prepares students for a variety of studies beyond high school, including the sciences, Stephenson said. “One of the misnomers is that we’re counter [science, technology, engineering and math]. You can emphasize humanities with a solid science background while also crafting citizens prepared to operate in the global age we live in.”

Dobkin, who graduated in May, is taking his international relations foundation to Georgetown University this fall.

“I picked the school of foreign service there,” he said. “I want to get started in D.C. and being there will probably take me into the political field.”

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