High school opens to the world

Posted January 10, 2010 8:30 a.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2010 9:21 a.m. EST

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, brings the story of a Chicago high school where foreign languages open up the worlds of science and math.

Walter Payton College Preparatory on the north side of Chicago is a public magnet school for science, math and world languages. Teachers emphasize the global dimension of every subject.

"Payton began with a vision that by bringing together a great faculty of teachers who had international experience and the desire to nurture global leaders, we would be able to create a curriculum and programs and projects here to set us apart from any other high school in the nation," Principal Ellen Estrada said.

One of Payton High's distinguishing characteristics is the requirement for every student to have four years of foreign language instruction. Offerings include Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.

"Language acquisition is a profound thing, because when you learn another language, you learn the way other people think," teacher Carol Ruth Kimmel said. "It's important to have more than one perspective now, more than ever."

Students said they are being prepared to live in a globalized world.

"I'm learning so much about foreign countries and about foreign affairs just based on taking Japanese for a couple years," student Jeremy Johnson said.

Technology also plays a key part at Payton High, allowing students to communicate with both experts and their peers across the world.

The school's championship math team learns about integers from a mathematician in Switzerland. A health class interacts with surgeons performing open-heart surgery. Students create rap videos in French. Other students talk about music face-to-face with teenagers in sister schools around the world.

"It's amazing to see out students' reactions when they get to see someone from South Africa or Morocco," Distance Learning Coordinator Luis Palacios said.

"Even though they are so far away and they speak another language, they still do the same things," Luis continued. "They're still going to the movies, they still like dancing, they still sing, and they're teenagers."