As a Bezos Scholar Educator in 2011, I have watched the Local Ideas Festival started by myself and Student Scholar Molly Freed progress from a week-long event to a continuing Festival of four years.
Called World Water Week, elements of the Festival have since been incorporated into our 9th grade curriculum, and while we are no longer hosting World Water Week – the Festival has evolved into something much bigger – the Washington State Global Issues Network, a national student-led conference on global issues.
As a social studies teacher, for the past several years I have taught a class called Global Leadership. The Global Leadership curriculum, developed in partnership with Global Visionaries examines complex global problems that we face on our planet today like water scarcity, climate change, access to education, and human consumption.
In 2010, Molly and I had the privilege of attending the Aspen Ideas Festival as part of the Bezos Scholars Program. After an intense and exciting week of learning, we returned to Seattle, charged with developing a Local Ideas Festival. We decided to focus our festival on a global issue that we were both passionate about: water. We wanted to help our fellow students and teachers learn about the realities of global water scarcity and at the same time, encourage them to think seriously about local water conservation.
World Water Week launched in March 2011. Students and staff attended assemblies, participated in a synchronous all-school lesson, and attended workshops during a student conference at the end of the week. Robert Glennon, an esteemed professor at the University of Arizona, and an expert on domestic water scarcity, travelled to our school to give an evening keynote lecture that was open to the public. Overall, it was a huge success. And then Molly graduated.
Luckily, Molly left behind an army of young global leaders, ready to continue the Festival. In the following years World Water Week went on to focus on the relationship between water and food security, then sanitation and health. The fourth and final World Water Week addressed the often-invisible problem of plastic pollution.
In 2015, we were ready to change course. Some of the content from World Water Week had been integrated into the core 9th grade curriculum as part of an interdisciplinary water project, essentially putting the festival out of business (in a good way!). And we wanted to engage more students from outside of our school in the issues we cared most about. We partnered with the Global Issues Network to organize the inaugural Washington State Global Issues Network (WAGIN) Conference. We hosted about 150 students from four states for two days of student-led workshops and inspiring keynotes.
Our successful Festival has evolved into a powerful student driven network that addresses the critical issues that matter most – that empowers youth voice and elevates youth led solutions. While we had no idea back in 2011 where this journey would take us, I could not be more excited for where we’ve come, and the possibilities of where we might continue to go.