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Turning Art Students into Global Citizens

By: Art Teacher Erica Spangler

November 27, 2018

Last year I took a graduate course entitled Foundations of Global Citizenship. The course changed my teaching drastically. We studied what it means to be global citizens and focused on the importance of teaching children to become productive global citizens. Being a global citizen means that you are aware of the problems that face your community and world. The next step is to feel a responsibility and also be willing to take action to solve those problems – even in a small way. As teachers in that class, we were charged to determine how we could teach global citizenship in our classrooms for any subject or grade level.

This posed a big question to me. How would I teach global citizenship in art? I discovered it is a natural fit in the art room. People use art to make a difference or raise awareness for different issues all of the time. I begin each year with my sixth graders talking about the role of art in their lives. My goal is not for them to become professional artists. Rather, my biggest desire is that they learn to be creative, think differently and solve problems. We look at surgeons, inventors and other “heros” who have taken the time (tried and failed over and over) to make discoveries that have altered their discipline dramatically.

Art is beautiful and eye-catching. It is a wonderful thing to make art for art’s sake. But, when we combine this beauty with positive messages, we start to be the change we want to see in the world! As artists, students have the power to use their talents and creativity to help raise awareness about things that need changing in our neighborhoods, our city, our country and our world.

Last year, students in third grade created a collaborative mural with plastic lids in order to raise awareness about Earth Day. By upcycling this “trash” into art, students were able to create something beautiful that people took notice of and then learn about the problems our world has with trash, lack of recycling and pollution.

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Fourth graders created posters for water day by re-using magazines to make beautiful water drops. They were attention-getting and also educated the viewers about simple changes they could make to conserve water.

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First graders learned about poverty and how The Blessing Basket Project  is helping women get out of poverty in third world countries. The class wove their own little baskets and filled them with change they raised by doing extra chores around the house. That money was donated to the locally based Blessing Basket Project.

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Sixth graders just made sculptures of endangered species and a video of their artwork to help raise awareness about the things that threaten animals as well as what we can do to make a positive change. They also raised money and adopted a wolf at the Endangered Wolf Center in order to take action and support an organization that is committed to helping threatened animals.

This summer I read The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children who Care and Contribute by Craig and Mark Kielburger and Shelley Page. This book has inspired me as I raise my own children to be global citizens. This great resource shows us ways to encourage our children as they strive to make a difference. This may seem daunting, but the action step you take can be very simple. For example, my family decided to stop using plastic shopping bags. We recycled our bags and replaced them with several reusable bags we keep in our cars. It took a few weeks to make a habit of bringing bags along whenever we shopped – whether the grocery store or mall – but we did it! My children are proud that we are making a difference by keeping our earth clean. We cut out one small convenient item that we really did not need to be using. Additionally, it has been a great way to strike up conversations about reducing waste and recycling in order to raise awareness.

Our children have gifts and talents. They also have passions. I have used their artistic talents at school as a way to ignite passions on how they can bring light to the world and make a difference. When we continue this at home and our children see us serving others and supporting their efforts as they help others, it sets an amazing example for the kind of citizen they can be today and will become in the future.


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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