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Oxford Community Schools expanding students' global mindedness

More than 50 full-time foreign students from eight different countries attend Oxford High School each year.

Oxford students gather with members of the Oxford International Residence Academy.

Many elementary and middle school students benefit from international winter and summer camps hosted by Oxford Community Schools.

A group of elementary students participate during a Spanish class, part of the Mandarin Chinese or Spanish requirement at Oxford Community Schools.

In 2007, Oxford Community Schools set out to make an impact on the global mindedness of its students and close the ever-growing global achievement gap in our country. Oakland County is home to over 1,000 international businesses, and the school district felt it was imperative to better prepare its students for the diverse global market in which they will compete. Oxford’s Fifth Core™ World Language & Culture Program, aptly titled to denote its importance within the curriculum, was implemented in the fall of that year.
The program is an 11-year Mandarin Chinese or Spanish requirement of all students. The program provides daily instruction beginning in kindergarten with the goal of fluency in a world language and its accompanying culture and customs by 10th grade. Today, Mandarin Chinese or Spanish is taught to all students. As of January 2015, more than 2,200 students were receiving daily instruction in Mandarin Chinese and over 1,900 students were studying Spanish.
All Oxford Community Schools are also authorized International Baccalaureate World Schools. As such, the district brings a global workplace setting into each classroom in the form of international project-based learning, international collaboration, dialogue and/or international workplace simulations.
Within the language department, Oxford has hired numerous bilingual/bicultural educators to afford a more authentic international educational environment. Some teach their native language while others reinforce their languages and cultures in core classes, electives and resource rooms. The district partners with Michigan State University’s Confucius Institute and Oakland University to foster teacher exchange programs between the U.S. and China. Currently, the district has 12 Mandarin teachers originally from China, and eight teachers who are native speakers of Spanish.
On any given day, Oxford world language students can be found taking part in an activity in a simulated marketplace in Mexico, singing songs in Mandarin, or playing Jeopardy in their second language. From the first time students set foot in the classroom, they are involved in activities in which they begin to use their second language in meaningful and purposeful ways. Through the district’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, students not only focus on speaking, reading, writing, and listening tasks in their world language classes, but there is also an emphasis on international and cultural perspectives in all core and elective classes. While teachers often focus on the impact of their current unit of study on the school community, they also ask their students to consider the impact generationally, nationally and globally.
Oxford’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Coordinator Molly Darnell explains that as an IB World School, the Oxford curriculum emphasizes the consideration of multiple perspectives and taking the classroom experience to the farthest reaches possible.
She describes Fifth CoreTM as “one piece of a curriculum designed to help every student learn to problem solve across multiple disciplines, in unpredictable situations, in areas in which they are both familiar and unfamiliar, as a member of an international team.” She also adds, “While we are dedicated to building student skill bases to facilitate ongoing language learning, the broader goal is for students to develop a respect for, and understanding of, diverse linguistic and cultural heritages.”
Oxford Community Schools structures its curriculum so students can participate in global projects.

Project platforms used since 2007 have included: ThinkQuest Learning Projects in which student teams internationally collaborate and compete in website and narrative challenges; ePals in which students participate in a global community of classrooms for exchange and collaboration; The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education in which students participate in international projects with peers and experts that employ real time data; Creative Connections for setting up class-to-class exchanges on cultural and social themes between American schools and their counterparts around the world; and Global SchoolNet for engaging teachers and students in meaningful project learning exchanges with people around the world.
Since the launch of Fifth Core™, Oxford has also grown its family tree to include 24 premier sister schools across the globe. All rooted in educational excellence and international collaboration, each school shares similar educational philosophies and offers invaluable support to the Fifth Core™ World Language and Culture Program. Oxford has sister schools in China, Mexico, Spain, England and South Africa.
Cindy White, Oxford High School Spanish teacher, explains how she and her students have benefited from such relationships.
“We are entering into our third year of an international exchange program with Bachillerato Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico. The program offers a 15-day immersive experience to students from both schools and has proven invaluable for all who participate. Oxford students have had the opportunity to be fully absorbed in the language and culture of another country, improve their language skills, and make new friends. It has been rewarding to watch students apply and expand their knowledge and to learn first-hand about global awareness, open-mindedness, and collaboration. The rewards for teachers have been equally profound. Having been to Puebla each year with our students, I have had the opportunity to guest-teach in English classrooms. Working with these classes and being able to share our culture and language has given me a new perspective and has strengthened my abilities as a teacher. The benefits have also extended beyond the experiences of students and teachers who travel in the exchange. Through the use of technology, we have been able to incorporate activities with Cinco de Mayo into daily lessons and have brought these unique learning opportunities home for all Oxford High School students,” said White.
Oxford Community Schools’ students also engage locally with peers who are native speakers of Chinese and Spanish. Many elementary and middle school students benefit from international winter and summer camps hosted by the district, while students at Oxford High School interact on a daily basis with over 50 full-time foreign students from eight different countries. Oxford High School has even cultivated an extracurricular International Club to promote cultural intelligence. One of the club’s key objectives is to empower students by developing critical thinking and social action skills. Members of the club gather together after school to share stories about life in other parts of the world and exchange recipes, dances and music.
The language and cultural exchanges in Oxford reach far beyond the classroom as well. Many community members have opened up their homes to host students from other countries, and it is not uncommon to see more than one language being spoken in a home.
Connie Ginste, her daughter and two elementary-aged grandchildren have opened their home to host six Chinese international students in the past two years. The international students come to Oxford for year-long stays as pupils in the Oxford International Residence Academy. Ms. Ginste and her family have found the experience of hosting international students both interesting and educational.
“My two grandchildren have enjoyed introducing our international boys to our holiday traditions, teaching them about our culture, playing games and sharing experiences,” said Ginste. “My grandson is fascinated with different countries, their customs, and their relationships to other countries, and frequently floods the boys with questions.”
Ginste even joked that her grandchildren’s Mandarin classes are sometimes more successful than the high school Chinese students would like, saying that the kids will often translate aloud pieces of conversations the boys are having amongst themselves.
Dawn Sterner, her husband and two teenage daughters have hosted students from Germany, Spain, France, Russia, China and Mexico. Her oldest daughter also participated in the exchange program with Bachillerato Cinco de Mayo.
Sterner explained how the experience of sending her own daughter to live with a host family in Mexico and then reciprocating the exchange by welcoming her daughter’s host sisters into her own home immediately bonded the once strangers as family.
 “All of the exchange programs and experiences have been fantastic learning opportunities for my children. There is really nothing more important than kids learning how to live and work together and become understanding of differences. Every international student we have hosted has had something to teach not only my children, but my husband and me as well. It is so important in the world in which we live today to learn about other cultures. The world is not so big anymore and we all share one global community,” said Sterner.
Janice Smith, a Spanish teacher, summed up Oxford’s world language and culture programs.
“We are working to maximize the opportunity for students from all cultures to learn and achieve in the classroom. Our goal is not only to teach the core democratic values that enable people to work and reach decisions together, but also to cultivate an understanding of ethnic diversity and how it can be a source of strength,” said Smith.
Teacher Cindy White also added the impact Fifth CoreTM has on the students.
“Without the incorporation of Fifth Core™ and the IB Programme in our schools, I do not believe the experiences our students now have available to them would have been possible,” said White. “The fostering of the love of language and cultural intelligence that these programs give our students has allowed us to maximize learning through real-life experiences that our students and teachers will never forget.”
Oxford Community Schools firmly believes the understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures and the ability to function seamlessly within those cultures is key to student success in the global marketplace in which we live. This belief remains the driving force behind the growth of the Fifth Core™ World Language & Culture Program and the commitment to maintain IB World School authorization.
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