George Lucas Educational Foundation

High School Education Takes On a Global Dimension

New doors open as students at Chicago's Walter Payton College Prep learn an international perspective reinforced by four years of language study, global videoconferences, and travel abroad.
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High School Education Takes On a Global Dimension (Transcript)

Paul: Hey, good morning, Matthew, can you hear me fine?

Matthew: Yes.

Narrator: It's 7:30 on the north side of Chicago.

Paul: Okay, we're mostly here. We're missing a couple of people.

Narrator: And for Walter Payton High School's championship math team, it's time for donuts--

Student: I prefer it with jelly.

Narrator: And distance learning.

Matthew: You can start with an integer like two--

Narrator: A Q and A with a mathematician in Switzerland.

Matthew: There's an infinite number of integers, so there are an infinite possible number of states, and this turns out to be how you can store an arbitrary amount of information.

Paul: Matt Cook really is one of the world experts in this field. And so this is an opportunity for them to interact with somebody who's actually doing research in the area that we're talking about, and that's really neat.

Narrator: At this science math and world language magnet, every subject seems to have a global dimension.

Paul: Conceivably, if every city is connected to every other city, like, one obvious algorithm here is void segment C, D.

In a single day, we could talk about math problems from China, which is how I introduced one of my units in trigonometry. Geometry problems from Japan, computation problems from France, I mean, the possibilities are really endless.

Ellen: Payton began with a vision that, by putting together a great faculty of teachers who had the desire to nurture global leaders, we would be able to create a curriculum and programs to set us apart from any other high school in the nation.

Narrator: One distinguishing factor is Payton's requirement of four years of foreign language study. Offerings include Spanish, French, Mandarin and Japanese.

Language acquisition is a profound thing, because when you learn another language, you learn the way other people think. You are really learning to keep several points of view in mind. It's important to have more than one perspective, now more than ever.

Jeremy: My friends and my family, they're very much happy to see me try to learn these languages, because they are quite difficult. At the same time, they're quite fun, and I'm learning so much about foreign countries and about foreign affairs, just based on taking Japanese for a couple of years.

Narrator: The school plays host to a steady stream of visitors.

Ellen: Good morning, and welcome to Walter Payton College Prep.

Narrator: Like this delegation of 25 Chinese Mayors.

Ellen: You are in a wonderful, wonderful city right now, the City of Chicago, the city of immigrants.

Narrator: This group gathered at The Confucius Institute, a resource center at Payton, funded through a partnership between the Chinese government and the city of Chicago.

Ellen: We're very proud to host the Confucius Institute and to give a global perspective to our school.

Robert: We really want to make sure Chicago is at the forefront of Chinese people's minds, when they're thinking about the United States. So we teach our children, not only the language, but we teach them the Chinese culture, and that's going to create a strong foundation for the city, so that more and more business and cultural exchanges can go on in the future.

Narrator: Chicago has the largest Chinese language program in the United States, with more than 6,000 students studying Chinese in 28 schools.

I have to make it fun and easy, and then also at the same time, they have to feel like they are-- they're learning a lot.

And then make them laugh, and I try to make them laugh every day, so that they think, oh, it's not boring, and then, when they like it, they'll do well.

Robert: We have many, many students who are recent immigrants from Mexico, and they all speak Spanish at home, and they are learning Chinese and English at the same time, so essentially, these kids will go through 13 years of education, where they're learning English, Spanish and Chinese, and they will come out pretty much as the most marketable students in the United States.

Teacher: Good. Are we ready? And..

Narrator: Technology plays a key role here, from tools to create rap videos in French..

Doctor: So it doesn't cut through the aorta.

Narrator: To this health class where students interact with doctors performing open heart surgery at a Southside hospital.

Teacher: What about Walter Payton, do you guys have any questions?

Student: Doctor, I was just curious. How would this surgery differ if somebody had already had a bypass surgery?

Doctor: That's a good question. Fundamentally it's the same operation, you know, that--

Narrator: The same technology has facilitated face-to-face encounters with students in several sister schools.

Student: I'd love to give you some information about my school--

Ellen: We connect with an all Islamic Intercity school in Casa Blanca, Morocco, a school in Osaka, Japan, we have sister schools in Concepcion, Chile, and in China. And a school in Durban, South Africa.

Student: I want you to play me something.

Luis: It's amazing, I mean, to see our students' reaction when they get so see someone from South Africa, from Morocco, and even though they are so far, and they speak another language, they still do the same thing, they still like going to movies, they still like dancing, they still sing and they're teenagers.

Narrator: Most students prefer real world exchanges to virtual ones, and by raising their own funds, all students have the opportunity to travel abroad.

Grace: When we were in France, all the things said, Coiffeur, on it. I think that's--

Narrator: French student, Grace Stome, visited Strasbourg, France, and spent a week in Morocco.

Grace: The second the plane touched the ground, we knew this was going to be way more than we could ever expect, a great experience. Everyone there was so hospitable and welcoming. We met all these dignitaries but that was-- while that was nice, it was even better to get to spend time with the kids and talk to them, and go to their classes, and go home with them on home stays. We wanted to speak French with them, but they said, no, no, let us speak English. We want to show you how we can speak English, and it was just an eye opening experience that I'll never forget.

Robert: Educators should always be looking at how can we open more doors for students. I find that when you open those doors, and when you expand those horizons, you never can close them, and that's going to change these students' lives, and their families' lives and their communities lives forever.

Wenya. Electronic flower? No. Okay?

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Bennett Spencer


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Fareed Haque

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • Walter Payton College Prep

Comments (20) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

franklin cleveland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

we are just beginning the process of creating schools of choice in the Low Country region of South Carolina. All will embrace multilingualiism, civic virtue,international studies, foreign student exchanges etc. would love to establish an on going partnership with Walter Payton. Our Learning Communities will include pre-K through 12.So as we grow and expand our ability to deliver service to our constituents let us develop a working and sharing relationship with your community. you story is more than encouraging.

KAY's picture
Anonymous (not verified)




jkendall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a 2005 alum of Walter Payton, and I really loved it there. I feel like they did a wonderful job of preparing me to enter college and inspire me to learn about things I would otherwise have not pursued. I would especially like to thank Ms Lu and Ms Havlik for being wonderful examples of the superb faculty at this school.

Annie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Not only does this school exceed the traditional requirement of two years a foreign language, WPHS requires four! As a high school foreign language teacher, I see the value and importance in today's society of knowing a second language. I was pleased to hear that the many Mexican-immigrant students in the school who do not speak English at home are learning English AND Mandarin. In order to be successful in the future, the US needs more challenging programs and schools like this. In order to compete globally, we as educators need to prepare our students for the future. The future will require everyone to be able to speak more than one language, not just English. Most citizens of other countries acknowledge this and are fluent in English in addition to their native languages. I feel schools in the US need to model those programs and that of W.Payton HS. We must require more study of and focus on foreign languages. Other countries have been practicing this for years. There must be some correlation to the current success of foreign business with how much emphasis they place on learning and excelling with the Enlgish language.

David Comp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What Walter Payton College Preparatory High School is doing to educate its students to be global citizens is a model for the rest of the country. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for our young citizens to understand and appreciate other peoples and cultures.

zana's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i use to want to go to whitney young put i heard about this school so i looked it up and it sounded interesting so i perfer this high school

Freya Kelly's picture

I loved this video and the innovative ideas it presents. I wonder if Peyton Prep School would have an online teaching position for me. I have credentials for English and Social Sciences. I have worked with AVID for 5 years.
I think that as educators we must embrace the authenticity and relevance of such programs if we are to educate all of our students.

Helene's picture
Interested in affecting student learning through creativity & innovation

A wonderful perspective on that which is taking place at Payton College Prep School, in Chicago. I really enjoyed especially the virtual interaction with teachers and students from around the world. Really Cool for the students to have the opportunity and exposure to meet, learn, and share with others on that level..Enjoyed it; truly inspiring

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