THE BLOG

Modeling Excellence for Transformative Change in Education

03/08/2013 02:21 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2013

Last week, we had the opportunity to bring 22 students from the Academy of Global Citizenship (AGC) to join thousands of children from across the Chicagoland area at the latest of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign events. Government officials, business representatives and notable athletes gathered at the McCormick Center for the event. The atmosphere was upbeat and exciting as students participated in guided exercise classes, shared healthy snacks and heard from powerful speakers. Still, the day's message remained clear throughout: health, wellness and physical activity are integral to a holistic education and it allows students to succeed in school.

Michelle Obama knows how to relate to children. "She is magnificent," exclaimed AGC fifth-grader Emma May Tadla. The first lady communicated powerfully:

"It is so important for each of you to realize that every day you, and you alone, have the power to choose the life you want for yourself. ... The only reason that I am standing up here today is that back when I was your age, I chose to focus on what I could control and that was to be healthy."

Empowering Students to be Stewards of Their Future

The responsibility to make choices that determine your future is a difficult concept for many young people to grasp because those choices are seldom available. When I started the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) nearly five years ago, my vision was to change this. We would provide students with the tools to become mindful leaders who would then be empowered to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. We would create a holistic approach to education -- fostering environmental stewardship, collaborating with the community, and most importantly, developing critical thinkers.

This was the exact strategy used at the Let's Move event on Thursday. When the first lady introduced athletes such as Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglas and Serena Williams, she positioned them as templates of healthy lifestyles that students could replicate. "You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to be healthy, you just have to move. That is how you will prepare your bodies and your minds for greatness," she said.

Her message immediately resonated with students. Jorge Espinoza, an AGC fifth grader, said, "The first lady wants to keep kids active. That's important because kids need to be in shape so they can be healthy." Joshua Paz, another AGC student affirmed this concept with a smile, saying "we're constantly doing something active at school to be healthy which will help us over the long-term."

Putting Knowledge and Action Into Context

The Let's Move campaign also underscores the power of experiential and contextual learning. The memories that 5,500 students have of the "best field trip ever," dancing and listening to the first lady's heartfelt speech, will reinforce her message more effectively than years of lectures. And the opportunity to meet powerful role models helps students understand how physical activity is connected to long-term health, happiness and success.

This, to me, is precisely the type of approach we should be applying to all facets of education. We need to help students understand how concepts are interconnected -- from health and wellness to sustainability and global engagement -- and then allow them to experience those concepts in real life. We know that this combination of knowledge and action in context is what helps inspire positive change over the long-term. And, in fact, we have already seen this approach working at AGC. For example, students launched a summer farmers market to provide healthy food options for our families and community members after learning about the positive impacts of eating fresh and local produce.

While our goal is to produce a replicable model for learning, we know we can't do it alone. What innovations have you seen working? How can we scale what we know? How do we inspire our children to pursue positive change?

Please share your thoughts. Together we can transform our educational system, create a better future for our children and reimagine what is possible in public education.

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