The Rowland Foundation

2011 Rowland Fellow
Bryan Aubin
Mount Mansfield Union High School

Global Studies Academy

A number of years ago, while leading a reflective discussion during a cultural learning trip in Nicaragua, I asked a student why he was now so interested in the issue of global poverty, while back home in school he acted with little interest. His reply was, “well, this is real.” I’d like to say I was shocked, but I too understood the power of esthetic experience in creating “real” learning. I began to ask: Why are our learning institutions not feeling “real” to our students and what can we do to foster a stronger sense of responsibility and urgency in our students’ learning? I had no answers to these questions, but I knew for certain that many of my students knew next to nothing about the world, yet possessed an insatiable curiosity for understanding the peoples and issues of our world. I want to bridge this gap.

My proposal is to address what I feel are the three primary barriers in secondary education from preventing a sense of “real:”

  1. Our curriculum insulates students from developing a priority for things global.
  2. Our school assessment systems focus student learning toward grades and scores, rather than learning and understanding.
  3. Our atomized school structure, by academic discipline and time, limits inter-disciplinary connections and forces teachers and students to conduct learning under a factory “one size fits all” model, rather than promote the strengths of the individual learner.

My proposal is to create an academy within the school with an experiential, student-centered environment that fosters global perspectives across the curriculum. My hope is that, through research of various assessment and curricular best practices in place in other academic institutions, we can transform aspects of our school and tap that natural curiosity our students have for learning about our world. In so doing, I foresee creating that very important sense of “real.”


The need for a sense of “real,” is the crux that remains of my original goal after almost two years of grinding, bending, twisting and morphing my proposal into a successful program at Mt. Mansfield Union High School. What was once to be a “school within a school” that offered a global education utilizing unique instructional and assessment techniques is now quite different—yet, at heart, still very much the same.

In the midst of my sabbatical research, through research, discussion and a number of surveys, I came to realize two major problems with my initial proposal:

  1. It was developing in a way that felt far too rooted in the humanities, limiting possibilities.
  2. A “school within a school” would not reach all students, many of whom would benefit from the opportunity.

It became clear that only a fraction of our student population would be able to participate in what I felt to be a valuable learning opportunity. Compounding this issue was who would be excluded, (by either choice or circumstance) from such an academy.

  • The “honor” student, whose AP scripted schedule would not make room fro the opportunity.
  • The “disconnected” and/or “disenfranchised” student who see little value in school related opportunities.

I feel that this valuable learning opportunity must be made available to all students. The trial run of what will become a required seminar for graduation ran during the ’12-’13 school year. We are currently in our expanded phase with larger a class size managed by two teachers. Pending school board approval, the “global seminar” will become a graduation requirement for all students beginning with the ’14-’15 school year.

One lesson I’ve learned by transforming a part of MMU is the value in “bending” my plans toward a bigger goal in mind. While no longer the ‘academy’ model I sought to create, my initial goal of creating a sense of “real” in how the students approach the learning process remains, now offered to the entire school population.

Skip to content