Return to Headlines

January 28, 2019

By George Arlotto

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education who became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner at the age of 17 in 2014, described the power of conversation this way: “The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue.”

Truer words were never spoken, and it is with that same mindset that we are approaching the transformation of the Global Community Citizenship course developed and implemented at Arundel High School into a countywide course that will be a graduation requirement for all high school students beginning with next year’s freshman class.

The pervasiveness of hateful and bigoted incidents in Anne Arundel County requires bold and sometimes controversial steps on the part of not just our school system, but our society. To be sure, the eradication of hate and bigotry is a duty far too broad for any singular entity – be it a school, a business, a place of worship, or a community organization – to accomplish.

However, our school system has an obligation to play our part in this critical effort. We have seen an alarming number of incidents in our communities and our schools in the last few years in which hate-filled messages were written, displayed, or distributed. That is why, though some may be opposed, the time is right to move forward with the expansion of this course.

Arundel High School Principal Gina Davenport and her team developed the course – approved by our Board in April 2017 – after an incident where offensive and racist fliers were distributed at the school. The goal was to enhance discussions among students and the community to thwart future instances of a similar nature, but more importantly to foster a climate where inclusion is not just the expectation, but the norm.

Every freshman at Arundel High School – to date more than 750 – takes Global Community Citizenship, and – as two students so eloquently testified at our December 5 Board meeting – its impact on the conversation and climate at the school has been tremendous.

The one-semester course, to be clear, is not a panacea. It will not, in 18 weeks, eliminate every instance of hate and bigotry. I believe it will, however, empower students to know more and feel better about themselves and others, increase empathy, and enable them to conduct discussions that will lead to better understandings of other cultures. In short, it will build bridges and relationships that will serve our students well long after they leave our schools.

We hope, as Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the county branch of the NAACP, said to our Board while voicing the branch’s support of this effort on January 23, it will help both us and our county “gain traction on what seems to be an intractable problem.”

This course will not come with an additional cost. We will utilize existing teachers and the materials developed by Arundel High School. Schools will be able to customize parts of the course to make it more specifically effective for their students and communities.

Further, this course does not add to the number of credits required to be earned by any high school students, including those in magnet programs, in order to graduate. It simply takes one-half credit from the 8½ “elective” credits required for each student and designates it to this course.

Will the Global Community Citizenship course, by itself, solve the issues we face? Absolutely not. We need parents, community and business partners, community organizations, and our society as a whole to do that. However, Global Community Citizenship will be an important part of solving this issue because as we help our students become more comfortable talking and interacting with others, they, in turn, can be catalysts for further change outside of our school buildings.

The writer is the Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

George Arlotto