Kids set the course in global studies school
New Trier Integrated Global Studies School (IGSS) members discuss some of the years projects in Room 121A at the high school on Tuesday, Oct. 2. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2012 6:03AM
WINNETKA — A course designed and run by high school students may sound like disaster waiting to happen, but the Integrated Global Studies School has yielded nothing but great things for New Trier High School.
The school-within-a-school is made up of 80 juniors and seniors who must apply and go through an interview process to be selected for the course.
A 10-member student board meets every day to keep co-chairs Jeff Markham and Colby Vargas up to date on their projects.
“We’re looking for kids who want to direct their own course of education,” Markham said. “They pick what they study, how they study it and how they’re graded on it.”
Recently the class took a field trip to view Ai Weiwei’s film, “Never Sorry,” because the students chose to study the political structure of governments like China and Russia.
“(Weiwei) was speaking out against governments that oppress against its people and their freedoms,” said senior student Caroline Gray. “He speaks out against China’s government through his art.”
Students of the course must choose a “create project,” in which they research a topic and see how it can be implemented in the real world.
A perfect example of such a project, according to Markham, was class of 2012 student Margot Young’s choice. She designed and built an organic garden on the New Trier campus that will continue to serve the school and community for years to come.
“(Young) researched why all other attempts to plant a garden here had failed,” Markham said. “She had to do an incredible amount of research, but she made it happen.”
Senior Sally French, the self-proclaimed garden coordinator, learned from Young how to maintain and care for the plants. The class enlisted the help of students and staff on campus and members of the community to keep the garden healthy over summer.
“I thought the garden would be dead when it was my turn to care for it,” said senior Kirby Engelman. “When we got here it was crazy flourishing. We tend to choose mostly vegetables and herbs, but it was a learning experience.”
French keeps in touch with Young and shares photos of the ever-growing garden with her through email.
The students send their harvested herbs and vegetables to local food pantries as part of their service to the community.
When given her own project, French received an instruction to present it not only to the class, but to those outside the walls of New Trier High School.
“I said, ‘Like a Powerpoint?’” French said. “Then (Markham) told me to find a publisher and get it published. The teachers here really know you and give us so much freedom. They understand we’re not quite adults, but we’re getting there.”