Group of students, teachers, and faculty smile

September 23, 2019

More than 100 Iowa City Community School District students visited the University of Iowa College of Education on Friday, Sept. 20, to discover how to integrate global perspectives into their learning and take part in an ongoing community-based partnership.

Students from Liberty High School, City High School, and West High School studying advanced levels of Spanish and French participated in the event, which served as part of the greater implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy in the Iowa City Community School District. The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a district to recognize students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation.

“The Seal of Biliteracy is going to give them more options in college or in their future jobs because they speak another language,” says Tony Balcaen, a City High School French teacher and College of Education alumnus. “I hope our students realize that even if they don’t have a lot in common with other people, at least language is something they can have in common and use to connect with others.”

The College of Education helped the Iowa City Community School District build a curriculum around biliteracy to help students not only meet their Seal of Biliteracy requirements, but also gain knowledge about global citizenship.

“These young adults are inheriting a really hectic and chaotic world, and they are going to need to have a skillset to help them navigate that world and solve the problems that they’ve inherited,” says Will Coghill-Behrends, clinical associate professor and director of global education initiatives. “Opportunities like this give them a chance to practice and learn how to do global engagement work.”

As part of the College of Education’s global and cultural education initiatives, students learned about internationalization from Dawn Whitehead, American Association of Colleges and Universities’ vice president of the Office of Global Citizenship for Campus, Community, and Careers. They also began working on a year-long project with community partners serving linguistically diverse populations including, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, Center for Worker Justice, Iowa City Compassion, and the North Liberty Community Pantry, amongst others. Projects range from doing translation work, to needs analysis, to helping create inclusive spaces in the Iowa City community.

“They are getting the understanding of how they are impacting the world with their actions and their abilities,” says Dolores Silva, Spanish teacher at City High School. “I am very happy with what has come of this project so far. I see a lot of great things happening in the classroom and in the future with our students and this partnership.”

In the future, Coghill-Behrends hopes to include more students and school districts in the program as part of the college’s work with global education and cultural initiatives.

“I am so hope-filled by seeing the work these students are doing,” says Coghill-Behrends. “The ways they are engaging with each other and with these problems is awesome.”