Why Naperville teacher wants 'Global Scholar' certificate

High school students in Illinois soon could have a way to prove their global understanding if a Naperville teacher's idea gains state approval.

Naperville Central High School teacher Seth Brady is among those pushing for creation of an Illinois Global Scholar Certificate to designate completion of globally focused coursework, service learning, collaboration, activities and projects.

The certificate could be given by districts that choose to recognize graduates for learning to connect and compete in the global economy.

Bills in the Illinois House and Senate could create the certificate with an amendment to the school code. If the state legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner approve the amendment, districts would not be subject to any new requirements, but they could choose to offer the Global Scholar Certificate to students who meet its standards.

"We're not asking for a mandate. We're trying to provide this opportunity that will allow districts to recognize students who have attained these global competencies," said Brady, who teaches comparative religions. "I don't really see a downside to this."

If the certificate is created, Illinois will join states such as Wisconsin and North Carolina that already offer a way to set apart high school students who gain global knowledge. Brady said this could be a valuable addition for students who want to prove to universities and future employers that they have the cultural, historical and linguistic skills to operate in the world economy.

"Students earning this certificate will gain a competitive edge in the college admission process," Brady said. "The Illinois Global Scholar Certificate is an important step toward maintaining Illinois' competitiveness in the global marketplace."

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, sponsors the proposal in her chamber as SB 2469, while in the House it's known as HB 4983. She said giving districts the option of awarding the certificate doesn't create any financial burdens, just a way to incentivize students to focus on global skills.

"This is something where we can encourage students, motivate them and actually honor them for what they've done," Lightford said. "I find this to be a breath of fresh air when it comes to acknowledging the growth of our students and giving them that recognition and helping them to attain higher education."

Students who seek the Global Scholar Certificate will have to complete five requirements:

• Take eight courses designated by the district as globally focused. Courses can be in arts, world languages, social studies, communication, sciences and career or technical education.

• Complete at lest one globally focused service learning project approved by the district.

• Collaborate with global peers in person or through virtual communication.

• Participate in globally focused student activities through school or an outside institution.

• Complete a capstone project by investigating a global issue, producing an artifact such as a paper, film, work of art or infographic and communicating the findings to someone affected by the issue.

Part of the challenge for students will be finding ways to communicate with their peers around the world. But Brady said many educational nonprofits and other organizations offer programs in which students can communicate internationally via Skype.

Students could study any issue with global implications, such as the refugee crisis in Syria or the economic effects of outsourcing jobs.

"People are not as far away from these global concerns as they think they are," Brady said.

Supporters of the certificate like its chances of passing muster in the state legislature because it aims to help students differentiate themselves with proof of "global competence," or evidence they've attained the ability to think beyond themselves, their surroundings and their societal values.

"Somebody who's globally competent," Brady said, "can hit the ground running in any cultural context."

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Naperville Central High School teacher Seth Brady says Illinois students would benefit in college admittance and careers if the state moves to create a Global Scholar Certificate to recognize cultural understanding and completion of international coursework. Daily Herald file photo, 2014
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