By: Jason Cummings
This Tuesday morning GFA’s Challenge 20/20 students presented to the Upper School student body their findings after a year of researching conflict resolution in Afghanistan. I will include a more specific information about the Challenge 20/20 program itself below. To start off with, however, I want to reflect a little bit on the connections that Upper School students are making as a result of the excellent work that our faculty is doing to help students to connect more fully with the world outside of Fairfield County. The students in the Challenge 20/20 program presented their solutions for the conflict in Afghanistan in a polished and professional 35-minute presentation in the Bedford Gym. This is exactly what I expected. They had been working hard and had gone through several drafts of the presentation. The fact that their presentation was excellent didn’t stand out nearly as much as the student body’s reaction to it did. Anybody who has ever spent much time in a school knows that Q & A periods following student presentations are not always as interesting or as engaging as the adults in the community would hope. This Tuesday, however, the Upper School student body listened intently to their classmates and met their presentation with a volley of thoughtful questions.
12th-grader, Andrés Mondino who has been working on a Global Thesis about the efforts to combat narcotrafficking in Mexico, challenged the Challenge 20/20 students’ plan to strengthen and train the Afghan National Army as a way of assuring a peaceful. His study of the situation in Mexico makes him think twice about sending the military (and not the police) out onto the streets. “How would you pay for your plan?” another student chimed in, “How would you deal with Pakistan?” inquired another. In short, the interested and thoughtful response of the student body was truly exciting. When I returned to my office after the presentation, a couple of students were waiting there with more questions. One student in particular, 11th-grader Isabelle Canaan, who is going to be in next year’s 20/20 class had wanted to ask for more information about the relationship between the Taliban and the poppy trade. She had worked on issues related to illicit trade at the Model UN Conference in Berlin this fall, and was interested in hearing more about how this comes into play in Afghanistan. In short the Challenge 20/20 presentation and the student body’s insightful round of questions, reaffirmed for me that not only do we have bright and motivated students working on globally-minded, individual and small-group projects (like the Global Thesis and Challenge 20/20), but that our Upper School students are an informed and engaged group of young global citizens.
The text of the Challenge 20/20 presentation will be posted at the beginning of next week on the students’ blog so that students, faculty and the parent community can continue the discussion. I will be sure to link to it here for those of you who are e-mail subscribers to this blog.
Now, just a little more specific information on the Challenge 20/20 program itself….
Challenge 20/20 is a program that is spearheaded by NAIS (The National Association of
Independent Schools), and which is based on J.F. Rischard’s book High Noon: Twenty Global Problems and Twenty Years to Solve Them. The students in the program select one of the twenty problems laid out by Rischard and spend the year studying it. They also have the opportunity to discuss the issue with students outside the U.S. and the opportunity to present their research to the student body at their respective schools. Each year groups of 3-5 rising seniors apply to take Challenge 20/20 as a ½-credit course at GFA. One group is selected to participate in the program.
This year’s students chose “conflict resolution and terrorism” as the problem that they wanted to research. 12th-graders Fatima Mohie-Eldin, Nathan Gleason, Nikhil Lai and Greg Tartaglione spent the first semester of the school year reading and discussing a series of post-Cold War peacekeeping case studies. They looked into recent conflicts in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, East Timor and others in order to gain some background knowledge on the topic. Having decided that they wanted to focus their study and their presentation on the current situation in Afghanistan, each student wrote a research paper at the end of the first term in which they considered the War in Afghanistan in light of the other conflicts that they had previously studied. They even had a chance to interact with some Challenge 20/20 students in Medellín, Colombia in order to discuss some of the parallels between the FARC insurgency and the Taliban (specifically the reliance on drug-trafficking for economic support).
Next years’ Challenge 20/20 students, Aubrey Carter, Isabelle Canaan and Regi Monroe are still discussing the topic that they would like to study. In particular they are discussing the possibility of examining the water crisis or issues related to immigration and human trafficking.