Davida Grant, a 16-year-old sophomore at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest Washington, wants to be a pediatrician. She dreams of practicing in a Third World country, where medical services are in short supply. When she was accepted into Wilson's International Studies Program, she saw the chance to move a little closer to that goal.
The International Studies Program is an intensified curriculum offered to 102 students in the sophomore, junior and senior classes at Wilson High School in Tenleytown. The program attempts to bring the students a little closer to the cultures they study in class. Classes in the program include regular visits by scholars, business leaders and speakers to enhance the students' understanding of a country's politics and culture. Each social studies or art history class goes to museums, art exhibitions and other cultural events.
At a recent field trip to the Georgetown Center for Minority Student Affairs, students from Wilson and the School Without Walls attended conferences and speeches given by diplomats and high school students from the West African country of Senegal and a dance performance by the African Heritage Dancers. The full day of events was hosted by Georgetown University and was geared toward giving the students exposure to the culture of Senegal, said Paulette Nowden, director of the center.
Students interested in the program apply near the end of their freshman year. Bruce Pendleton, program coordinator, likened the application process of the program to that of applying to college since it includes submitting a transcript, a writing sample and a letter of recommendation from a foreign language teacher and a social studies teacher. Pendleton stresses the importance of the writing sample as a mirror of the student's interest and knowledge in international affairs.
"We ask them to name and write about three current international issues. We are looking to see if they are somewhat aware of things going on in the world today" and if they have basic writing skills. Along with the required 2.0 grade point average it takes to enter the program, students must have a good attendance and a behavioral record.
"They can do it if they put their minds to it," Pendleton said. The two most popular languages are Spanish and French, but there are also classes in Latin, Greek, Italian and German, he said.
"We just happen to have a number of people who know these languages," said Pendleton, referring to the program's teaching staff, most of whom have language skills in addition to their teaching specialties in English or history.
Because the program enables students to complete four years of a foreign language and urges them to learn a second, "these students will have lots of opportunities and job openings to choose from" in an economy that has a growing international focus and increasing international interactions Pendleton said.
The International Studies Program is one several career-oriented learning curriculums in high schools throughout the District that are all part of the D.C. public schools' Public Private Partnership. The Partnership is a collaborative effort between Washington secondary schools and private industry that provides positions for students in companies so they can gain hands-on experience and "work alongside professionals who provide guidance or insight to their jobs." Other programs in the partnership include Business and Finance, Culinary Arts, Travel and Tourism, Health Professions, Pre-Engineering and Communications.
"An overwhelming majority of these students go on to college, or the military. Many of them even get jobs in the fields where they've held summer jobs," said LaJoy Mosby, assistant for corporate involvement for the Public Private Partnership.
Pendleton said the focus of the International Studies Program switched from an enriched academic program emphasizing humanities and foreign language fluency to a program designed specifically for training the student for a job or further study.
In 1983, Marcello Fernandez, director of the D.C. public schools' bilingual education division, proposed starting an international studies department at Wilson.
"We were a logical site for the international program," Pendleton said. "Wilson is multi-ethnic. Twenty percent of our students are international students."
Fernandez received a $15,000 grant from the philanthropic Agnes Meyer Foundation for a coordinator and supplies to develop a curriculum for the program. A year later the program was incorporated into the Public Private Partnership.
"Fernandez envisioned the need to internationalize the curriculum and the Program was his brainchild. He believed that global economy -- what happens in one country's economy affects the economy of another country -- will be" the wave of the future, Pendleton said. "We picked up his drumbeat and carried it."
Pendleton's message is one of hard work in the present to prepare for a future. " . . . there are lots of jobs that need people with their training and understanding of world events," such as international banks, careers in diplomacy, international human rights organizations and humanitarian groups.
The school system pays for the program, while private industry provides some of the speakers for classes, and makes up the business advisory council. The council compiles mailing lists, plans special cultural activities, and helps find summer jobs and internships for students. Students usually earn the minimum wage at jobs financially supported by the city's Summer Youth Employment Program and the Stay in School project run by the school system.
Kellyn Guevara, 17, a Wilson senior, will be part of the first full graduating class of the Wilson International Studies Program. She has applied to American University for its international relations program. She worked last summer at Meridian House International, assisting the coordinator of the host family program by telling foreign visitors about herself, sharing her experiences as an American youth and high school student and American citizen. Born in El Salvador, she speaks both Spanish and English. Gaining self-assurance and fluency in her fourth year of studying French at Wilson, she used all her languages comfortably in the summer internship, she said.
"She was great, very bright," said Norma Caig, program coordinator of the Washington International Center Host Program. "She was a real team member and picked up the information quickly."
Davida Grant said the courses in the program are difficult, but that she enjoys them because "they make students elaborate and compare and contrast" information that would not normally go into learning a language or a different culture. "We just had a speaker from the Spanish Embassy explain cultural events, Spanish relationships, and the extended family. The courses are beneficial to students and they will learn a lot more" said Grant.