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Back to school: Portland's Deering High takes global perspective on hunger, poverty

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Back to school: Portland's Deering High takes global perspective on hunger, poverty

PORTLAND — As part of a new global studies curriculum, Deering High School students and faculty will spend the 2014-2015 academic year with a focus on hunger and poverty, not just in Portland but around the world.

Principal Ira Waltz said the school is the first in New England to join the International Studies Schools Network, which according to its website is "a national network of design-driven public schools that are achieving success in attaining their core mission: to develop college-ready, globally competent high school graduates."

"So what we've done is change our mission from college and career ready, to college and career ready and globally competent," Waltz said.

The global perspective isn't out of step at Deering. Waltz said the school is now the most diverse high school north of Boston, with students from 54 different countries and speaking 27 languages.

Waltz said that through a grant, he and the coordinator of ISSN were able to travel to Hong Kong and Beijing for leadership trainings. He also said the grant sent 10 teachers to other ISSN schools around the country. Deering faculty met on Aug. 12 to discuss what the curriculum for a year-long focus on hunger and poverty would look like. 

"So we're going just above and beyond Portland data or the  state of Maine data, it's world data," Waltz said. "So if you're doing statistics, you could do hunger across the world and put different countries in. So it's just kind of that switching the mind set, to where we're a global citizen now. We need to prepare students for that."

Waltz said each teacher will find a way to embed the subject matter into the curriculum, so that the students hear it from many perspectives.

Science teacher Polly Wilson, one of the teacher leaders for the ISSN, said there won't be a common curriculum for the school, but teachers will teach their content around the theme.

She added that  teachers can also work together to align classes or entire courses to share.

Waltz said last year's focus was on women's rights in Afghanistan. Deering students selected the theme last year, basing it off the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Wilson said the topic could have been anything that gave a global focus to their work. She said the students voted on this and were very interested in it.

"So many kids wanted to do something about it," she said. "And they really wanted to help people here in Portland with food insecurity."

According to Wilson, one event this year will be guest speaker Ruchira Gupta, who will speak in March at the Justice for Women Lecture Series sponsored by the University of Maine School of Law. Gupta is the founder and president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an organization that is a response to the poverty in India that sends young women and men into human trafficking.

"For us, our free and reduced lunch percentages are up to like 54 percent," Waltz said. "And so, one in two of our students are living in poverty. So what does that mean to them? And then how can we make a difference is really, for me, the important piece. So what can we do to support ending hunger, worldwide but also in our own community?"

Waltz said one shift Deering has made is offering free breakfast every day for all students, regardless of financial status. He also said for the first time they will be offering snacks for students in after-school activities and sports.

Classes begin on Sept. 2.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.