By Britten Follett – Senior Vice President of Marketing and Classroom Initiatives, Follett School Solutions
My first trip overseas was to Egypt to see the Valley of the Kings and the Great Pyramids. I’d read every travel guide on the book shelf to prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime immersion into the cradle of civilization. Warned of all the potential risks of traveling to a country like Egypt, I was dreadfully afraid to eat anything outside of a hotel, due to the sanitation issues. I carried disinfectant in case the water of the Nile splashed on me during our felucca ride to an island in Luxor, Egypt. Due to the chaos on Egyptian roads, we had no option but to hire a driver to take us to the American International Schools for business calls during the day. But by night, we negotiated with vendors at the Khan el-Khalili market for silk rugs, scarves, and blown glass. Every day I would come home with dirt under my fingernails simply due to the pollution in the air.
Everything was very different from the way of life I was used to in Illinois. I recall being shocked when every taxi driver we hired asked whether we were Muslim or Christian. Regardless of whether we shared the same faith, the driver would always share his beliefs. I was amazed by the dichotomy between the opulence of the American International Schools, and the indigenous schools, that in some cases lacked proper trash pickup. I laughed as the horse-drawn buggy drivers offered to pay my father 100 camels for my hand in marriage.
Climbing into the smallest pyramid at Giza and gazing at the miraculous excavations where the pharaohs are buried was truly an opportunity for me to see the world as a global citizen. This country and its culture were so foreign to me, yet my experience helped me see the world beyond my comfort zone.
The students and staff at Tudor Elementary School, in Anchorage, Alaska won this year’s Follett Challenge for the Global Citizens program, which enables students to take a different look at the world around them. The little global citizens at Tudor Elementary will be much better prepared to adapt to whatever opportunities come their way—wherever they go, and with whomever they meet.
Librarian Michelle Carton started the program because she was concerned about the isolated Alaskan environment in which her students grow up, and the struggles with public education in the state. Many Alaskan students don’t recognize they are U.S. citizens, and see Alaska as its own country. In some schools, it’s not out of the ordinary to have families speaking 63 different languages in one school building. Due to cost prohibitive travel expenses, some students will never leave their villages. So, Carton is bringing the world to Alaska.
Kindergarten through sixth graders at Tudor proudly claim Global Citizen status as they Skype with students around the world, sharing the many cultures in Alaska, and hearing about a day in the life of students in far-away places like Dubai. Through these global connections, the students at Tudor are also sharing the wonders of Alaska with the world. The little ones laughed as they explained that most students they talk to think everyone in Alaska lives in igloos and eats polar bears.
With no polar bears, or moose in sight during my visit to Tudor for the Follett Challenge celebration, the students received a package of letters from their pen pals in Russia. They shared samples of their Sri Lankan friends’ favorite snack—fish chips. And they explained how the first graders are working to have a fully sustainable classroom by eliminating all plastic products like straws, grocery bags, and cutlery.
But most importantly, they shared what being a Global Citizen means to them…
It means protecting the earth so that people around the world can continue to enjoy it.
It means showing kindness to everyone regardless of our differences.
It means building connections with students around the world.
It means dispelling fears.
It means preparing for a world where cultures are no longer separated by an ocean, a plane flight, or a travel guide.
It means unlocking the value of seeing the world through another’s eyes.
If these children can be responsible Global Citizens, perhaps we all can.
For more information on The Follett Challenge, Tudor Elementary, and the semifinalist winners in this year’s contest, visit: FollettChallenge.com
Britten is a journalist. A marketer. A storyteller. A board member. A philanthropist. An advocate for libraries and education.