Expanded study-abroad program opens world to District 219 students
Niles Township High School District 219 Superintendent Nanciann Gatta talks with new teachers during their orientation and welcome at Niles North High School on Aug. 16. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 30, 2012 12:56PM
SKOKIE — Watching the Olympic Games broadcast from London this summer reminded Nanciann Gatta of the value of embracing the global community.
Encouraging an enthusiasm for the world at large is an important aspect of teaching, said the superintendent of Niles Township High School District 219.
“Students need a solid foundation in education but also a better understanding of their role as global citizens,” Gatta said.
Over the past four years District 219 expanded its international exchange program to include China, France and Guatemala on its list of study-abroad opportunities.
Previously the district’s only foreign partnership was with a school in Germany.
Now a second Asian state may be the next stamp in students’ passports.
Niles West High School is currently developing a program with Seolhwa school in South Korea to bring foreign students to Skokie.
Both Niles West and Niles North are also partnering with two high schools in Taizhou to host Chinese students in October, and to send their own staff and students to China on an 11-day trip next June.
The goal of the program is to expand students’ horizons geographically, socially and educationally.
“Good ideas can be found anywhere,” said Niles West Principal Kaine Osburn. “They can’t be found anywhere if you’re not open to them.”
He said students who traveled overseas in the past to countries like Tanzania, Chile and Italy returned home with a renewed appreciation for their school.
“As teenager you don’t always realize and recognize what you have here is the result of the community investing in its kids,” he said.
Exposure to other cultures is particularly important in a school system as diverse as District 219.
According to community-relations director Jim Szczepaniak, 40 percent of the district’s 4,800 students are born outside the United States.
Nearly half the student body speaks a language other than English at home.
As a result of studying, playing and living alongside people of different backgrounds, many Niles West graduates have said they prefer socially inclusive environments over those that are more homogenous, Osburn said.
“And that’s a good signal because the world isn’t going to get less-diverse,” he said.