Naperville teacher scores $100,000 to promote global learning

$100,000 will go toward projects to promote global learning in Illinois

A $100,000 grant awarded Thursday to a Naperville teacher aims to help make the world a smaller, more connected place for students across the state.

Seth Brady, the Naperville Central High School teacher behind the creation of the Illinois Global Scholar Certificate, says the money will help launch the program during the 2017-18 school year with summits for students, training for teachers and a statewide service learning project connected to an international cause.

"It helps build the critical mass for global education in Illinois," Brady said about the funding, which came from the Farmers Insurance Dream Big Teacher Challenge. "Now we can go beyond the certificate itself and really start to provide hands-on opportunities for students."

Brady has been pushing for creation of the Global Scholar Certificate since at least 2014, when he was a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year.

This year, with the help of fellow Naperville Central social studies teacher Randall Smith and about 700 others across the state, the certificate was approved by the state legislature and signed into law Aug. 12.

The program allows school districts to choose to offer a Global Scholar designation to graduating seniors who meet certificate requirements by taking eight globally focused courses, completing one globally focused service learning project, collaborating with peers from other nations, participating in globally focused student activities and completing a capstone project on a worldwide issue.

In an interconnected world, the coursework will help prepare students for the realities of their futures, when their lives won't just be affected by decisions made down the street, but across the ocean, state Sen. Michael Connelly said.

"It gives our students a leg up," he said about the Global Scholar Certificate. "It gives us something that is innovative and different."

The program pushed locally by Brady and Smith is one of six teacher projects in the nation awarded a $100,000 grant through the Farmers Insurance Thank America's Teachers program. It was chosen as one of 15 finalists out of 180 applications.

Online voters who cast ballots during October took it from there, vaulting the initiative to the top six in the country and scoring the grant.

Naperville Farmers Insurance agent Mary Wlodarski sponsored the application and helped encourage voters after Brady recruited her to the global education cause. He contacted her cold, and she admits to feeling uninformed at first about the importance of understanding international cultures, values and ways of conducting business.

"By the time we met for an hour, I was on board," she said. "This can be life-changing for students."

Brady and Smith now have a year to spend the money as indicated in their grant proposal. That means they'll be busy planning two global education summits next year - one in the Chicago area and another downstate - as well as placing training materials online to help teachers lead students to the certificate.

They're also planning a statewide waterway cleanup in September 2017 to coincide with a global day of clean water action, giving students a way to improve conditions, gather data on local streams and compare it to research done by students in other countries, Brady said.

These global experiences will make students "richer people," the grant-winning educators say.

"To have a gift of an opportunity to reach classrooms across the state excites us," Smith said. "We look forward to the future of Illinois students and the opportunities that they will have."

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  Farmers Insurance agent Mary Wlodarski says she joined the global education bandwagon after meeting for an hour with Naperville Central High School teacher Seth Brady, whose project she helped win a $100,000 grant in the Dream Big Teacher Challenge. Mark Black/
  Naperville Central High School teacher Seth Brady shares plans to use $100,000 he won from the Farmers Insurance Dream Big Teacher Challenge to get the new Illinois Global Scholar Certificate program rolling during the 2017-18 school year. Mark Black/
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