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Earlier this semester, Georgia M. ’20 submitted her proposal for a major independent research project, and now she’s about to embark on a year-and-a-half-long journey of in-depth research into immigration policies around the world. She conceived the project proposal for the Westridge Global Initiative, a new Upper School program designed to provide students an opportunity for meaningful interdisciplinary study of a modern-day global issue.
Previously, students like Georgia frequently pursued global-related interests outside of class in their personal reading and research, travels, and volunteer work; with the launch of the Westridge Global Initiative, juniors and seniors may propose a selection of Westridge courses relevant to their interests, and participate in experiential learning such as internships, volunteering, informational interviews, and more that will apply directly to their area of focus. Their independent Community Action Project, a Westridge graduation requirement, may also be tied to their Global Initiative project. Participating students will receive a distinction on their diplomas at Commencement.
“I’ve always wanted to do a research project,” explained Georgia, “and when I heard about the Global Initiative, I thought it combined the perfect amount of individualistic design with studying an issue that has global repercussions. And I chose immigration [as my topic] because it’s such a complicated issue that we don’t have the time to study in-depth in a class. I’m interested in really getting to the bottom of it.”
Students looking to participate in the Global Initiative submit proposals to a committee of Westridge faculty and staff, who also serve as advisors for students throughout the duration of their self-directed studies. Upon project completion, students will defend their final portfolio and present their work before the committee.
“We’re preparing our students to be globally aware, 21st century learners,” said Director of Upper School Gary Baldwin. “The Global Initiative is an avenue for students to develop confidence, leadership skills, and informed voices to advocate for themselves and others as they become models of global competence for our community.”
Regarding her own Global Initiative proposal, Georgia said, “I’m planning to study different immigration policies, mainly focusing on the U.S., Germany, and Siberia or Russia, and the effect of the policies on the social environment in each place. And my end goal is to combine all the good elements of the policies I study, to make my own policy.”
Georgia plans to interview both immigration policy experts and people who have firsthand experience in going through the process of applying for visas in various countries. In addition to her independent research, Georgia is taking both Global Studies and Ethics classes at Westridge this year. She will apply the knowledge she has gleaned from classes she’s already taken at Westridge, including The Modern World System and Spanish, which she says directly relate to her understanding of immigration in California, to her project.
Another student, Sophia R. ’20, is in the early stages of writing her Global Initiative project proposal. “When I’m in a class,” said Sophia, “I find that a lot of times, something is brought up that I’m really interested in, but we only focus on it for a couple class periods or a couple days. This is a chance to go deeper into an issue that I’m really interested in. Plus, I want to pursue a career in international relations, so when I saw the Global Initiative, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s perfect for me!’”
Sophia’s proposal will focus on child labor and corporate social responsibility, and she plans to interview industry professionals who study and create policies to address and prevent child labor. It’s an issue that’s very personal to her, she explained, because she has history with the topic; Sophia’s mother works to eliminate and prevent child labor in the corporate world.
“Being globally informed equips students for their futures,” said Upper School teacher Brittany Coker, who serves as the chair of the Global Initiative Committee. “It helps them lead lives of impact, knowing that what they’re learning is not just about this school, and it’s not just about us. When students see the interdisciplinary nature not only of their courses but also their lives, it makes them more holistic learners.”
Westridge students in the Upper School Ethics elective reflect on both the world and themselves through the study of major philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Machiavelli, and the application of these different philosophical systems to real-life situations. As part of a current unit on Kant’s theory of obligation, students spent a recent lunch with holocaust survivor Trudie Strobel, who shared her and her mother’s story of the holocaust and her journey as an adult of using art to regain her strength.
According to Willa Greenstone, who teaches the Ethics course, Kant’s belief of obligation as following true moral law is often misunderstood to mean individuals must “follow the rules.” Study of the holocaust in this context asks what happens to citizens’ obligations when a government is operating based on “bad morality.” The unit on obligation also includes the Milgram Experiment and Jonathan Bennett’s “The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn.”
“I think this class is important because it requires our students, at a very young age, to spend a lot of time reflecting on their own moral construct,” said Greenstone. “Meeting with survivors and other speakers related to class discussion and getting into their personal story makes the ethical issues very real and makes the girls understand that these occurrences are not just past history.”
Mrs. Strobel was born in Russia months after her father was taken to a Siberian prison. Four years later, she and her mother were taken to a Jewish ghetto in Poland, then moved over the course of three years to a series of prison camps. They survived because her mother’s sewing skills were valued by the Nazis. After the war, they lived in Bavaria before migrating to Chicago. Mrs. Strobel has turned her embroidery skills, learned from her mother, into art works that were an important part of her healing. Her work is part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum. You can learn more about Mrs. Strobel’s life and art here: www.trudiestrobel.com.
Ethics has been part of the Westridge curriculum for more than 10 years. Student interest is high – this year two sections are running.
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