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Global Education

Zero Hunger and Global Learning: Empowering Students to Make a Difference

Every school day, students file into the cafeteria at Winstead Avenue Elementary and many stand in line to grab lunch. When the bell rings to return to class, students throw away their uneaten food—but put their untouched items in a separate bin, labeled After School Donations. How did this happen?

For Cindy G., a first grade dual language Ambassador Teacher from Colombia, it’s an inspiring change from when she first arrived at Winstead Avenue five years ago.

“I was shocked at how much food we throw away each day in the school cafeteria,” she remembers. “In Colombia it’s not commonplace to throw perfectly good food away that isn’t eaten at school. We make it possible for students to take food home, and tell students to only take what you need and know you will eat.”

In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity, many of them children. Having access to healthy, nutritious meals is essential to prepare students for success, and that access has a far-reaching impact on academic rigor and overall health. When students are hungry, they don’t learn as well.

“Every single year you try to do something different for the students, incorporating some culture and worldwide knowledge. But, it’s difficult. There’s so much going on, and you’re not sure what to do or how to do it,” Cindy says. “That’s why I chose to do the fellowship and why it was so helpful—it was a dedicated time to work through how we could incorporate global competencies and SDGs into existing projects.”

Getting started with a global project

Each summer, the Global Leaders Fellowship invites globally minded educators like Cindy to participate in a six-week-long professional development experience where they develop skills in global education curriculum design. Fellows discuss how global competencies connect to standards-based learning objectives, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and students’ underlying interests and passions. The fellowship culminates in creating a plan for a global action project for the following school year.

Even for a veteran teacher like Cindy, it can be surprising to see firsthand how incorporating global competencies leads to better student engagement. Adding a global lens encourages deeper learning for students as they make connections between the topics they are learning and the world around them. It harnesses students’ sense of curiosity about the world, and creates a way to apply their innate desire to help others.

Choosing a topic: Zero Hunger

During the fellowship, Cindy was drawn to SDG #2: Zero Hunger. She felt confident she could start with a regular class topic, such as plants, and talk about how to fight hunger through agriculture, a clever way to help students link their previous knowledge with new learning. In this global action project, students didn’t just learn about food waste and its impact on hunger; they also learned about how harmful it is for the environment, and the way it misuses the resources needed to grow and make the uneaten food.

“We started with a science unit to lay a foundation of understanding the parts of plants, and where and how they grow,” Cindy says.

Then, she introduced social studies topics to explore the deep connection between food, culture, and societies. Specific activities allowed students to learn about what school lunch looks like all over the world, as well as financial and economic literacy and how that connects to the food people can afford to eat.

“My students surprised me. They were interested in every touchpoint. What can farmers do? What can students do? What can grocery stores do?”

Making these connections to the real world was an opportunity for students to broaden their horizons and develop an understanding of global issues.

Cindy purposefully kept the project open-ended to allow students to add their voices to the cause, though she did incorporate her original plan of exchanging student artwork for canned goods to contribute to a food bank at school. During the fall parent-teacher conferences, Cindy displayed students’ creations and encouraged donations by asking parents to bring in shelf-stable dry goods to be able to take home the art. In the end, her six- and seven-year-old students’ vision for how they might take action to end hunger was much bigger than what she’d imagined.

Taking action locally to make a difference globally

At first it may seem daunting to make connections between existing curriculum and applicable lessons in the real world. What Cindy found, though, was that doing so opened the door for students to deepen their learning and proactively find ways to make a difference. In fact, after their initial lessons about SDG #2, Cindy’s students came to her with a specific idea in mind.

“They said to me, ‘We need to save the food we’re not eating. We know some of our friends at school go to after-care school, or go home, or go other places, and they don’t have food. So what if we made a box for students to grab a snack after school?’”

Then she asked for the principal to come in and listen, too, and her students excitedly advocated for their plan again in English and in Spanish.

“They’re first grade students. I was not expecting them to think about it so deeply, or to come up with such an ingenious solution, but they did, and it’s been in place ever since.”

Once Cindy’s class had support from their principal, they set up a process: anything that wasn’t touched from breakfast or lunch, or any donations from home, could be put into a box outside of the cafeteria. At the end of the day, any student who wanted or needed a snack to take home could pick up one on their way out the door. All of this was made possible by first grade changemakers.

By seeing the greater purpose behind the lessons, Cindy’s students were even more motivated to make a difference and help others. After creating the donation box, they continued working on mastering other grade-level standards by applying their learning to the greater cause of ending hunger.

Empowering students to share outside the classroom

At the end of the year, the class created a video explaining their zero waste project in English and in Spanish so it would be available for everyone.

“Students were interested in showing the video to their family members or people in their church community outside of school, because they recognized that food waste and energy waste also happen outside of school. They were excited to be YouTubers, and influencers, creating content and sharing information about it.”

“When you hear the name global competencies, you think, what in the world​​—when can I do this? I have no time. I have to teach all these other subjects. But when the project was done I thought, why didn’t I use this before?” Cindy said. “It’s incredibly rewarding and is a lesson I’ll take with me back home to Colombia as I continue my teaching career.”

All teachers have the potential to shape leaders of the future. With Global Leaders, students experience learning that goes beyond mastery of specific academic skills; they develop solutions and ideas to change the world. Learn more about how to make global learning a reality for your students.

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