Tacoma, Wa. – Celebrating its ninth year, Charles Wright Academy’s Global Summit opened today, Sept. 22. The Tarrier community welcomes high school students and teachers from China, Colombia, Poland, and the United Kingdom to campus and CWA homes for a 10-day social justice and human rights conference. For CWA families with students in 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th grades, the summit offers a unique opportunity to host a student or two, learn about another culture, and share American culture.
During the summit the speakers, field trips, and discussions focus on moving participants away from an “us” versus “the other” mode of thinking toward one that values connections, the worth and dignity of all people, universal human needs and rights, and the ways each one of us can make meaningful differences in the lives of people who formerly were “others,” usually through simple everyday actions such as by reaching out to understand and include them and by being an upstander rather than a bystander when another person is facing injustice.
CWA families and teachers host all visiting summit students and teachers, so the opportunities for meaningful connections multiply and “dinner-table diplomacy” is frequent, informal, personal, powerful, fun, and often long lasting. Many CWA alumni report that relationships with the students they hosted continue and grow over the years, and quite a few alumni have chosen international relations or related majors and careers, influenced by their summit experiences. The Global Summit has grown to the point that we have more countries wanting to participate than we have families to host.
Among the many past and present summit speakers are Carl Wilkens, the only American to have stayed in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and credited with saving hundreds of lives; Holocaust survivor George Elbaum, who recently returned to visit Poland at the invitation of our Polish friends; and representatives from Theo Chocolate, a local fair trade bean-to-bar chocolate company. We also have partnered with organizations such as World Bicycle Relief (which inspired a new Theo Chocolate bar and a trip with CWA teacher and students to Zambia to deliver bicycles and chocolate bars); Olympia-based Alaffia, a company that makes personal care products for the sole purpose of supporting families, and especially women, in Togo; Kiva, with whom our summit students fund micro-loans to entrepreneurs from throughout the world; and nonprofits PATH and SPLASH. This year the Global Summit schedule includes a visit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
What does hosting a student entail? Just being yourself! Visiting students have a full schedule during CWA’s Experiential Education Week, and CWA Upper Schoolers do not have homework this week. Visiting students love picnics, sleepovers, drive-in movies, visits to the mountains or beaches, playing games, going to the mall, spending evenings around the dining room table or a campfire (think s’mores), baseball games, museum visits, and ferry trips to Seattle.
Students typically go quickly from anxious strangers to close friends. In fact, on the Sunday morning when students leave, tears flow and CWA students block the school bus that takes the GS delegations to SEA.
The seeds for the Global Summit were sown in 2006 when former Upper School history teacher Nick Coddington (now a doctoral candidate at Columbia University) attended a Holocaust education workshop in NYC and met a young Polish teacher, Marcin Pasnikowski, who taught at a middle school in Swidnik, Poland. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Poland found itself increasingly turning to the West, so the Polish school created a weeklong exchange program for middle school students in Western Europe. Soon, Nick and Marcin agreed that an American school should join this experience in Poland. The first group of CWA ninth and 10th graders visited Poland in the spring of 2007, and Polish students visited CWA for its first Global Summit that autumn. Our ninth and 10th graders continue to represent the United States at the Polish conference each spring.
The Global Summit has become an integral part of CWA, and quite literally put us on the map. A number of Winterim trips (such as to United Arab Emirates, Poland, and the United Kingdom) have been possible due to the close relationships CWA faculty and families have nurtured with the Global Summit schools.