How a Lesson at School Inspired Kids to Address the Global Goals

By Ilina Ewen

January 21, 2016

Ilina Ewen will be speaking at the Moms +SocialGood event in New York City on May 5, 2016. Learn more about the event here. 

“Making a world of difference…” 

A poignant and meaningful call to action greets students, teachers, and visitors as they enter Wiley International Studies Magnet Elementary School, a 100-year old school near downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.

One of the main objectives at Wiley is to encourage students to become responsible, respectful global citizens. They offer five foreign languages (French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese) and a global-themed curriculum to equip students with the linguistic and cultural skills they need to prosper in an increasingly connected world.

11391773_10206970219076273_4796168817412471243_nA key difference in how Wiley educates students, compared to the traditional American education system, is its emphasis on taking action.

Getting involved

My son is a student at Wiley. As a mother and an advocate, I appreciate that the school’s mission complements the work I do as a Shot@Life Champion Leader. My son’s teacher knows me as a community volunteer and outspoken advocate, so she asked me about volunteer and advocacy opportunities for children. I realized all the issues my son’s teacher raised were tied to the Sustainable Development Goals  global goal, so I proposed speaking to the school’s entire fifth grade about the new Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the global goals.

In my talk I connected each goal to both a local and global issue, integrating with the students’ assignments about the book A Long Walk to Water. This sparked rich discussions about access to basic needs, war, poverty, and human rights. I spoke about my travels to Uganda and India and shared photos to illustrate many of the global goals.

Making the global goals their own

After my time with the fifth graders, the school adopted a different UN Global Goal each day to celebrate Spirit Week. The focus of the week was on giving back, a wonderful way to teach students about how their small actions would make a difference. Spirit Week activities brought together both global and local partners. Student actions included collecting stuffed animals for refugees through U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and donating food for the school’s Backpack Buddies program.

The students transformed into young advocates, chattering in the hallway about sustainability, ending poverty, and access to education.

During Spirit Week, students transformed into young advocates, chattering in the hallway about sustainability, ending poverty, and access to education.

The fifth grade is working on opinion writing and is incorporating a letter writing campaign into the curriculum. Students have chosen access to education as a priority topic and are writing to the United Nations about why we should focus on education, and educating girls in particular.

My own son Neal passed up gifts for this tenth birthday and instead asked to raise money for a girls’ school we visited in India recently. Reading the students’ own words gives a heartwarming glimpse of how meaningful global instruction translates into action. It’s a powerful thing to engage children in an age appropriate manner and watch their own ideas and insights blossom.

“Going to school can improve whole villages’ lifestyles forever. If one girl goes to school she can start to educate the other people in her village. Then the others in the village can educate other villages. Education can cause one truly amazing chain reaction. How do people deny education when one girl could improve a whole village?” — Neal Ewen, age 10

Take Action Challenge

How do you teach your children about global issues? Do they get to discuss these topics at school? What would you like to see happen at your kids’ school or do you have other ideas to share below?


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