Via a unique partnership between Bright Light Volunteers (BLV) and our educational partner Bethel University (BU), BLV’s innovative approach to cultural immersion and global citizenship cultivation is being utilized to impact the lives of rural, southern, Title I high school students. We have conclusively shown that our programs, particularly our programs that serve high school students from the rural south, are having profound effect in improving retention and college acceptance rates through cultural immersion, international study and service initiatives.
The global citizen is aware of the wider world, has a sense of their own role as a world leader, respects and values diversity, and participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global (Oxfam, 2015). In our experience, global citizens and leaders are most successfully cultivated through high-quality, rigorous education coupled with sustainable-international service.
Historically, Title I students in the rural south have had limited access to global citizenship education and to the multiple intellectual and social benefits of participation. Therefore, a strategic alliance between Bright Light Volunteers, a global nonprofit organization, and Bethel University, a SACS accredited college of liberal arts, has been established to support the U.S. Department of Education’s Purpose for Title I schools, “improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged” by “closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.” (2004)
Through this partnership, 64 Title I, high school students have enrolled in a Global Service Learning and Citizenship (GSLC) course at Bethel University for transferable college credit. Upon completion of the course, they traveled to Cuba, Peru, and/or Costa Rica where they continued learning concepts and skills necessary to function in a world that is increasingly interconnected and multicultural. State-funded grants, such as the Tennessee Hope Scholarship, have helped fund tuition. Private scholarships and sliding scale program fees have helped fund travel expenses. The result is that rural, southern, Title I high school students are becoming first-generation college students and global citizens.
These Gen Z students, also known as digital natives, expect their education to include technology-driven course work. By designing and delivering an online course, using the Canvas LMS, students learn the history and culture of the host country as well as the importance of becoming an ethical, global citizen. Students in the course read scholarly articles and texts, watch timely documentaries, participate in academic discussion, and become familiar with the UN Global Goals. They complete quizzes, create blogs, and write reflection essays. Combined, these assignments are designed to prepare participants for their study abroad experience (decreasing culture shock) and ultimately, college. While we believe in the power of technology to educate the next generation of global leaders, all our programs for Title I students are staffed by at least one secondary educator and one college professor. All BLV staff and educators are extensively trained in Best Practices.
Since the inception of the BU/BLV partnership, we have seen a 233% increase in the number of Title I participants. 100% of participants graduate from high school and attend college. When asked, in online, post-GSLC surveys, to rate their knowledge of the historical, political, scientific, cultural, and socioeconomic interconnections between the USA and other parts of the world, 98% agreed that participation in the BU/BLV GSLC program had deepened their understanding.