A Publication of WTVP

What are our schools, businesses and governments doing to help educate our young people to think globally and prepare them for a role in the world economy—or for a job in your world as you seek a presence in a greater market?

Some would say that we are surely not doing enough. I would prefer to highlight the leadership demonstrated by those who are already pointing the way. As I have helped bring international speakers to our high schools in central Illinois in the past three years, I am greatly encouraged by the efforts made by the teachers and school administrators who have a real dedication to opening the eyes of their students to the opportunities and challenges available to them in our modern world.

Here are a few of my heroes!

First-year Spanish teacher, Amanda Wenger, of El Paso-Gridley High School is welcoming a visit in early February by Spanish Trade Commissioner Enrique Alejo. Her schedule for the day will allow the students at El Paso-Gridley to learn about Spanish culture and customs and what life is like for young people in Spain. Wenger’s Spanish-language students will practice their skills with Commissioner Alejo over lunch and learn about opportunities to travel or study in Spain and for El Paso-Gridley in an effort to establish an exchange relationship with a Spanish high school.

In Morton, high school chemistry teacher Mary Holmgren is educating her students by promoting her unique Chemistry in the Community project. She requested some input on the state level, and as a result, a student forum on natural resources and energy will take place at Morton High School on February 6th. Students will be asked to contemplate increased world-wide demands on our planet’s energy resources and will hear from invited speakers from private industry in the fields of nuclear, coal, wind and bio-fuels energy. They will also learn about career opportunities with these companies and industries.

Eric Bohm is a young teacher at Pontiac High School. His international studies classes have become among the most popular at the school. In recent months, he has hosted visits from Austrian international trade and consular officials and the head of Illinois’ Office of Trade and Investment, which works to help Illinois businesses sell their products abroad. While in Pontiac, these officials dined with Livingston County business and government leaders and discussed ongoing efforts at economic development within the county.

It’s also encouraging to see that Illinois Central College and Dunlap High School are thinking globally as they consider offering classes in Arabic to their students. They already provide Chinese Mandarin classes, and both ICC and Heartland Community College have ongoing relationships and exchanges with Chinese colleges and universities.

I believe that more area schools would offer expanded foreign language opportunities to their communities and young people if it were not for a fear of sparking some sort of controversy, such as what engendered when Peoria School District 150 decided to offer Chinese language instruction this year.

Though there is a perceived shortage of foreign language teachers for our schools and a belief that such programs are too costly, that is not necessarily the case. District 150’s new Chinese language teachers are provided and subsidized by the Chinese Education Ministry. For decades, other states have established extensive foreign language instruction with the help of various foreign governments. I know this because I worked for such a program many years ago in Louisiana, the state-sponsored and supported Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.

Hundreds of French teachers have come from France, Belgium and French-speaking areas of Canada to teach in Louisiana schools. It began in my day as a way to restore pride in the historic French culture and language in Cajun country, and today has led to broad educational and cultural exchanges that have positively impacted Louisiana’s economy and tourist trade. Google “CODOFIL” to learn more! You’ll find Radio Codofil to be most entertaining!

We in Illinois and across this country can do more of these types of things for our young people. The more opportunities we give them to experience life and the wonders of the world, the more interest they will take in growing their own opportunities.

Sure, a number of young people will seek adventure elsewhere, but increasingly more will discover they can practice their skills and truly be part of an exciting broader world while still calling central Illinois home.

Businesses, professions, the arts and bodies of higher education should reach out to students in our elementary and secondary schools. Offer them a glimpse of your world, and their lives will be changed forever. Some companies are already leading the way.

Our communities and schools can do their part by directly asking our employers, professionals and others for help. My experience is that they are just waiting to be asked.

Our children are excited to learn, to be challenged and to grow. Let’s not let them down. We need more heroes like Wenger, Holmgren and Bohm. Will you be the next one? IBI