Helen Gross is the principal at Carolina Forest International Elementary. Her educational background includes an A.A. degree from the University of Hawaii, a B.S. the University of Southern Queensland, a M.A. in Counseling from Argosy University, a Certificate in School Counseling from East Carolina University and a M.S.A. from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Helen's professional experiences in Onslow County include service as the assistant principal at Bell Fork Elementary and as a guidance counselor at Southwest Middle School. She has also served as the Director of the Army Community Services in Netherlands from 2007-2009.
Driving Question: How can a small, rural school help students become 21st Century global citizens?
Jacksonville, North Carolina is noted as the home of U.S. Marine Corps Camp Lejuene and the youngest average age population in the U.S. Living in a semi-rural town on the coastal waterway, the 975 students at the K-5 Carolina Forest International Elementary School are guided by a mission to “foster each student’s ability to problem-solve, become independent thinkers, and ensure that students can master, apply and extend knowledge in the real world”. To put this 21st Century statement into action, the Onslow County School System provided Carolina Forest faculty with professional development, an international staff and resources to build an international school in deed as well as name.
The first year of professional development included five modules.
- The first module Globalizing the Classroom set the stage for an international environment throughout the school. This module included resources on how to create culture corners, time zone walls, current events and exposure to diverse music. Teachers grabbed on to the module’s practices. How excited I was as the principal to walk into a 1st grade classroom and observe students who were writing about students in Africa and listening to African music.
- The second module focused on Understanding the Culture in the Classroom. This module forced our teachers to examine their own beliefs about culture, to understand the cultural dynamics of classroom communities and how beliefs can influence student engagement and performance. Our students had the opportunity to create cultural resumes, investigate and share their own heritages with classmates.
- The third module was named Internet and Society. This module examined the global impact of technology as well as the local and global digital divides in our community. The digital divide component required us to examine our school’s communication practices. Were all our e-mailed newsletters and weekly school updates reaching all families and providing equal opportunities for all regardless of access to the internet? What changes did we have to make?
- Module 4 focused on establishing Connections Beyond The Classroom. Teachers and students worked to develop partnerships outside their classroom walls. A few of the resources available included E-pals and Skype. With these, teachers could call upon guest speakers who were not able to travel to our school.
- Module 5 Blogging in the Classroom used blogs to enhance student engagement and to build 21st Century learning skills. For instance, a group of teachers traveled to San Pedro, Belize in April 2013 and facilitated a real-time blog session with our students during each day of their visit when they shared their experiences and allowed students to ask questions.
These 5 modules provided the support and tools our teachers needed to take the next steps in developing professionally as global educators. To enhance their contributions, we added six teachers from other countries to our staff. In 2012, they moved to Jacksonville from England, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Jamaica and the Philippines.
Grade level teams collaborated with our international teachers to complete the five modules provided by the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program. The foundation for creating global learning classrooms revolved around the inquiry-based instructional design of understanding, investigating, connecting and integrating. The international personnel enabled each grade team to create a globally rich curriculum, not as an add-on or extra activity, but rather as the basic daily curriculum. In addition to the personnel resources, Visiting International Faculty (VIF) provided grade level indicators as guides to monitor our progress as global educators.
The students at Carolina Forest are becoming more knowledgable global citizens through their exposure to international teachers, the grade level focus on a region of the world, understanding their own heritage and culture as well as that of their peers, connecting with students in other parts of the world and having access to learning opportunities outside of the school, state and even country. Our students’ pen-pal relationships with students in Belize via video conferencing sessions is a highlight for all.
The growth experienced by our teachers has been remarkable. It is two-fold. First, they have developed a global competence that would never have been achieved without substantial collaboration with international colleagues and professional development that ensured they were prepared to deliver an inquiry-based curricular program that revolved around understanding, investigating, connecting and integrating a global focus. The second piece is their personal growth. It has been a pleasure to see the development of their global awareness and aptitude this year. From seeking ethnic restaurants and cultural art events to traveling outside of the country for the first time, the influence of our global focus has created opportunities for personal and professional growth that we never even realized would occur. When all is said and done, even though many of our students are from military families and have lived in other parts of the world, the faculty’s growth as benefitted the students’ growth. Their understanding of other cultures has grown in a similar manner and better prepared them for the global world spread well beyond the confines of Jacksonville.
California Forest International Elementary School, Jacksonville, N.C. is a P21 21st Century Exemplar School - Check out the Patterns of Innovation podcast to hear more about what makes Carolina Forest so successful.