November 3, 2017 Blog, Fund Program

Creating a Literacy Footprint: World Literature and Global Citizenship at Ebinger

In her office, Principal Serena Peterson-Klosa of Ebinger Elementary School keeps a map of the world with stickers on it. Each sticker represents places students and teachers have learned about in class. She calls it Ebinger’s “literacy footprint.” Serena adds, “I want our kids to get outside of 60631” – that is, the Ebinger neighborhood zip code. To do this, she led her school in adopting the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme and supported her teachers in integrating culturally diverse curricula.

Serena’s participation in the Cahn Fellows Program inspired her to cultivate a sense of global awareness in Ebinger’s students. As part of her Cahn Fellows Project, Serena worked with her teachers to develop curricula that was rooted in world literature and current events. She believed that students develop empathy when they read stories with relatable characters, and she hoped to foster a sense of global citizenship and social responsibility in her students through this broadened literary perspective.

Building on this foundation, Serena further explained that in her predominantly white school the curriculum she developed “shouldn’t necessarily be culturally relevant, it should be culturally aware.” In a city as diverse as Chicago, Serena was determined to ensure that her students learned about cultures different from their own.

One way Serena implemented this curriculum at Ebinger was by encouraging teachers to replace traditional read-aloud books with ones where the protagonist came from a different background than her students. In a lesson on comparing and contrasting, for example, one teacher swapped the classic Frog and Toad story that she had used for multiple years for a traditional Indian folktale.

Although teachers were initially unsure of how students would manage the new material, both teachers and Serena were impressed by the depth of student dialogue that came from the change. Serena said that the “objectives were the same, but the conversation was richer” and that students felt Ebinger “was a safe place” to have these discussions. Across classrooms, Ebinger students engaged in difficult and relevant topics guided by teachers who were open and understanding to their exploration.

Serena grounded this focus on global citizenship in the local community by empowering students to lead their own community service projects. Eighth graders at Ebinger participated in a community service project as part of the school’s new IB Middle Years Programme. During the 2016-17 school year, eighth grade students learned that community members had to pass through a tunnel each day to reach the nearest transit stop. After researching their neighborhood, one group of students decided to paint a mural of the Chicago Skyline in a tunnel near Olympia Park that they thought could use some sprucing up. Students committed to maintaining the space with the help of a local Girl Scout troop, and to continuing that positive impact – right in their own community!

Serena hopes to build on this next year by incorporating global perspectives into other subjects at Ebinger. She looks forward to the new cohort of Cahn Fellows to see what projects they develop to improve their school communities.