Teachers at the University Charter School (UCS) in Sumter County, Alabama, were initially unsure about implementing Global Nomads Group’s Student to World program.
Middle school math teacher Rochelle Tolliver was the school’s first facilitator. “We were hesitant because we thought it was adding more to our already full plate. Once we saw how organized the program was and what a win-win it was for us, we immediately embraced it.”
UCS subscribes to a “place-based learning” model, focused on engaging students in their community, including their physical environment, local culture, history, and people. Students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the world they live in.
UCS’s Student to World program began as a pilot in the fall of 2021, with one middle school class incorporating the program one day a week. The program was so successful that the three other middle school teachers asked to join in as well. By the end of the year, every UCS middle-school class had completed the program.
It turns out the Student to World program fits perfectly with their place-based model. Tolliver says, “We look at things on a global level and then try to make that same impact here at home, which is exactly how Student to World is structured.”
Elizabeth Reed, Place-Based Education Advisor at UCS, was an early champion of the program. “When I learned about it, I got all fired up,” she says.
UCS is located in a rural part of Alabama, which, Reed says, can limit students’ exposure to the wider world. “We were trying our hardest to cultivate these real-world experiences for the students,” Reed says, “but it was proving very difficult. The Student to World program is the easiest way to get their voices out and to connect them with someone else from a different population, from a different culture, on the other side of the globe.”
Student to World doesn’t just act as a window to the world, but as a mirror. “We have a pocket of multicultural students at UCS,” Reed says. “For them to see people like themselves in some of those videos, to see themselves in other students involved in the same topics, was very encouraging for them. They don’t often have those connections here other than family.”
The impact of implementing Student to World in classrooms is reverberating throughout the school community. “I discovered that the kids now relate what they’re learning in other classes to the real-world,” Tolliver says. “In our morning meetings, we now pose questions that relate to the real world, just like the program does.”
A student advisory committee independently created a project called “I’m a Rural Student”, where they submitted their perspectives on what it’s like being a rural student in Sumter County. They invited students from rural communities in their national network of place-based schools to submit their stories as well, just as Student to World invites students to contribute to our Global Peer Story online collection.
Middle school students at UCS now participate in Student to World four days a week, and the administration is lobbying for all schools in the place-based network to join them.
Ultimately, credit for the program’s success belongs to the youth participants. “When you put the students in the driver’s seat,” Reed says, “they prove time and time again they can handle it, and more.”
One Student's Voice
Bennett Smith, a seventh-grader at UCS, is currently learning through the Student to World program how diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to himself and his community.
“The program taught me that it is important to include others that might not be as capable as me. They might think they’re less of a person, but I really want to prove throughout our community that that is not true whatsoever,” he says.
He and his fellow students are taking the lessons to heart. “It’s really something that all kids should learn. You can’t get through life without knowing how to include others,” Bennett says. “In jobs and the community, you can actually change somebody’s life just by being nice to them.”