Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

DCPS Program Fosters Global Awareness and Exemplifies Student Learning

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

When District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) gets press coverage, it’s not always glowing news. In recent years, DCPS (a major urban city system with a recent history of controversial reforms) is often associated with topics such as their new teacher evaluation system (IMPACT), charters, or poverty and inequity. But just a few weeks ago, I learned about a truly amazing DCPS program at a Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P-21) event. I listened to two panels – one with embassy representatives and the other with DCPS teachers - talk about a life changing experience that could only happen in a system like DCPS: the Embassy Adoption Program (EAP).

EAP was founded in 1974 as a cultural enrichment program for 5th and 6th graders in DCPS in partnership with the Washington Performing Arts Society. Teachers apply to be part of the program, and selected classes are paired with a participating embassy. Then throughout the year, students gain an in-depth understanding of their host country’s culture, history, food, government and geography, to name just some of the immersion components. The classroom also has globally themed lesson units, and students get to meet with ambassadors and heads of state and participate in activities such as learning host country dances, songs and music. Towards the end of the year, each class has two capstones projects – a Mini United Nations and a final presentation about the country, put on at the embassy for the ambassador. More than 45,000 students have participated in the program, with over 100 host embassies.

The embassy panelists all spoke very highly of the program and their experience with the coordinators, teachers and especially the students. They appreciate and value the opportunity to connect with students in American schools and help foster a deeper understanding of their country’s culture and history here in the United States. They are diplomats, sharing or exporting knowledge of their respective countries through education and interacting with a new generation of Americans – among which we may see future leaders and US diplomats. When we, as a society or a community of education professionals, discuss the importance of global awareness and 21st-century skills, this is the type of experience we seek to offer to students. The generous sponsorship and hosting by both the Washington Performing Arts Society and the embassies exemplify the best of a (global) community approach to education.

We spend most of our time focusing on what we think DCPS could do better, but maybe every now and then we could spend a few minutes reflecting on what DCPS is doing right. As we seek to educate and prepare our students for success in the 21st-century, this program in our nation’s capital exemplifies this effort as it leverages a unique position to provide students of all backgrounds with an incredible learning opportunity. EAP offers students possibilities for where they might go in their own careers as they learn about other cultures and careers on the world stage, developing a greater awareness of the world outside their neighborhoods. EAP defines what school and learning can truly do as an enrichment program that goes beyond the basic subjects and engages student in the acquisition and application of knowledge. I left the event marveling at the students and educators and the truly positive relationships this program creates for embassies, classrooms and schools. I also left feeling unusually hopeful and inspired about our future, as we move further into this century.