DCPS Launches First Study Abroad Program

The District of Columbia Public School Global Education Program recently launched its first-ever study abroad initiative, set to begin in the summer of 2016.

Four hundred students and teachers will have the opportunity to spend eight to 19 days in one of 12 countries this June and July, free of charge to the participants. The trips, which focus on service, leadership and language immersion, are open to students in 8th or 11th grade enrolled in a world language course.  D.C. public schools offer at least one of these seven language courses: American Sign Language, Arabic, French, Italian, Latin, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

The study abroad program is funded by the D.C. Public Education Fund, a local nonprofit that covers transportation, housing and meals, as well as passport and visa fees for all participants. The comprehensive funding aims to make the program accessible to students from all backgrounds and varying financial means.

The Public Education Fund is contributing $2.78 million in total to fund DCPS Global Education Programs.

Portfolio Director for the Public Education Fund Katie Aiello-Howard said that the program is part of DCPS’s aim to provide the best possible learning experience for its students.

“Every DCPS student should be excited to come to school every day, and DCPS knows that a student who is motivated to learn is one who is also exposed to enriching educational experiences,” Aiello-Howard wrote in a press release published in January 2016. “By creating more rigorous world language programs through an increase in current content offerings, DCPS can better prepare students to be globally experienced graduates.”

DCPS hopes that the program will not only expose the students to foreign cultures but also improve their linguistic skills and prepare them for their future after graduation, be it in college or for a career.

DCPS Press Secretary Michelle Lerner highlighted the importance of educating students about the global community.

“DC Public Schools is committed to providing a world-class education to its students. The opportunity to better understand a more global world is an imperative part of that strategy,” Lerner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We want every DCPS graduate to be an inquisitive, informed and active world citizen, prepared for an increasingly diverse international community.”

To be considered for the program, students must submit an application that includes short essay questions and a reference from a non-family member by Feb. 15. In addition to the language course prerequisite, students must demonstrate their commitment to the program’s various requirements.

Applicants in the 8th grade can apply to attend one of five trips offered to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, China, France or Italy. The trips to China and Ecuador emphasize connecting culture to service, while the other three are primarily intended for the purpose of language immersion.

The 11th graders, on the other hand, can choose from 11 locations: Belgium, Chile, China, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru and Spain. Out of the 11 programs, five focus on language immersion, five are service learning-oriented and one is designed to foster global leadership.

Lerner stressed the importance of making the program available to students of all economic backgrounds in order to expose them to opportunities to travel internationally.

“Every student deserves a world of possibilities; that’s why DCPS developed a study abroad program,” Lerner wrote. “DCPS Study Abroad helps ensure that our global citizens have access to global experiences, so that travel becomes the expectation rather than the exception for students.”

Additionally, DCPS partnered with other organizations to offer cultural communication and general safety training to better prepare students for the experience of being abroad. These training sessions are led by “teacher ambassadors” appointed by the DCPS who will attend monthly meetings with the DCPS Global Education Program.

Lerner emphasized the preparation process as part of DCPS’s effort to cater to the whole student, highlighting how these trips may be the first international ones for some students.

“When we think about providing a rich education to every student, we think about the experiences, curriculum and tools our students need to be successful graduates of DC Public Schools, prepared for college or career,” Lerner wrote. “The chance to study abroad and see a part of the world fits into that frame.”

D.C. native Meghan Zorc (NHS ’19), who attended a private school, said that she wholly approves of this initiative as a means to expose students to new experiences.

“At my school, I did have an exchange program. When I was a sophomore in high school I got to experience learning in a different city before going to college and I think that’s a worthwhile experience,” Zorc said. “Hearing about the D.C. Public Schools’ initiative is remarkable, I think, because it gives kids the opportunity to travel that wouldn’t have the means to do it otherwise, and to experience these service opportunities before they’re exposed to it in high school.”

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