For the first time, five Sun Prairie High School students took a Saturday in February to attend the Wisconsin Global Youth Summit.
“I thought it would be super formal and serious,” SPHS junior Lakshmi Vemuri said. “It turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought it’d be.”
She and more than 170 other Wisconsin high school students crowded into the University of Wisconsin- Madison Union South on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Sun Prairie, just like the 37 other high schools, were allowed to send five students to the event. They included SPHS Sophomore Genevieve Jacobs, SPHS Student Joanie Lange, SPHS Junior Brinna Pocernich, SPHS Sophomore Joey Reindl and Vemuri.
Students spent the day in small break out sessions led by college students. They talked about what culture means and how to be global citizen, and also participated in cultural demonstrations and learned the basics of new languages.
“I left feeling more inspired, because I just spent a whole day with really nice people my age that are just enamored with the world that we live in as I am,” Reindl said. “It made me really excited for my future and what I’m able to do and accomplish.”
The most significant thing they said they learned was that being culturally aware was an intentional decision and a positive thing.
“Over all, culture is education,” Jacobs said.
Encouraging this passion is the program’s goal, said Gerhard Fischer, Department of Public Instruction (DPI) international and world languages education consultant.
“Let’s get these kids together one day and… basically just create an enthusiastic, upbeat atmosphere,” he said. “This is just showing them what’s out there.”
The Wisconsin Global Youth Summit was first held three years ago at UW-Madison, and it drew in about 80 students.
Leading up to the event’s launch, the DPI had been working for a while trying to figure out how to educate Wisconsin students in a global way, he said.
“We are, as a country, and therefore as a state, behind what most advanced countries do,” he said.
He and others realized there were students who were excited about different cultures and ways of living, so why not bring them together for a day, he said.
Although Fischer and the other event organizers didn’t know how popular the event would be the first year, he said it was a success and has been growing every year.
UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee alternate in hosting the event, and Fischer said they’re expecting even more interest for next year.
The summit is one day, so as a way to continue encouraging global learning, the DPI started a Global Schools Certificate Program.
If students meet certain requirements, like taking four credits of language and being involved in cultural extra curricular activities, they can get a note on their transcript saying they’re a global scholar.
Another requirement is to complete a global or cross-cultural public service project, such as raising awareness about a global issue, fundraising for an international nonprofit, working in a service club or volunteering in a culture group.
“I’m hoping this won’t only be a high school initiative, but a way to get the community involved as well,” Sarah Gleiss, SPHS and Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School German teacher, said.
In addition to being a day for students, the summit doubles as a professional development day for teachers. Gleiss and more than 60 other teachers attended the conference to learn more about the certification program.
“It’s a way to recognize students who are already doing this kind of work and might be interested in approaching their academics through a global lens and sharing that with others in the school as well,” she said.
For more information about the Wisconsin Global Youth Summit, visit www.globalwisconsin.org.