An Independent School • Grades 5-12
8th-grade GSL: Preparing students for a complex and interconnected world
8th-grade GSL: Preparing students for a complex and interconnected world

by Charlotte Blessing, director of global education

Our students are growing up in a world that's complex and changing more rapidly than ever. What kind of education do young people need for a future we can't quite predict? What knowledge and skills will our students need to be active contributors in an interconnected world? At Lakeside, and around the globe, educators have been considering these questions carefully. Among the attributes many of us think are necessary for students to succeed in an increasingly diverse and changing world are empathy, resilience, and intercultural competence, which is the ability to communicate and interact effectively and respectfully with people who are different. So, how do we help our students develop those attributes and use them in real-life situations?  

One major way we help students develop empathy, resilience, and intercultural competence is through our Global Service Learning program, the goal of which is to nurture an ethos of global citizenship in our students by connecting their lives with the needs and realities of a global society. In the Middle School, 8th-grade GSL takes students into six different Pacific Northwest communities for an extended period. In groups of 14 to 15 students, guided and supported by three caring adults, the students experience daily life in rural settings where economic and educational opportunities, as well as life experiences, are very different from what students may be used to in Seattle. Students practice listening and reflection skills (intercultural competence) when they work with young students in the timber-producing town of Vernonia, discuss controversial whaling traditions with Makah elders on the Olympic Peninsula, or learn about migrant labor issues from farm workers at the Broetje Orchards in Eastern Washington. 

For some students, the 8th-grade GSL trip is the first time they're away from family, pets, and home for six nights. Many students are nervous leading up to the departure day. And many parents and guardians feel just as nervous as the yellow buses pull out of the driveway and head toward I-5. The only way they will hear from their student is through the blogs. The 8th-grade GSL trips disrupt the daily routines that most of us favor. In return, our students build resilience as they adjust to new routines and not always knowing what comes next. 

Though the accommodations are slightly different at each location, all students experience a week of group living. This presents so many opportunities for a different kind of learning. Tasks and responsibilities need to be shared and completed. Every single day! Students put the menus together and cook for each other. They wash dishes and write blogs so their families can know how they are doing. Some days are harder than others: Maybe it's been raining all day and the service project still needs to be completed. But in a recent survey of 9th graders, almost every student who attended the Middle School said the 8th-grade GSL trip was a highlight of their time there. Despite the challenges, students felt they bonded as a group and developed new understanding of how life somewhere else can be different. Most importantly, students felt they had learned a lot about themselves, which is an important step toward developing empathy for others. 

This year, students will set out on 8th-grade GSL trips on Sunday, Sept. 30. The GSL orientation for 8th graders takes place during the school day on Friday, Sept. 7. All parents and guardians of 8th graders should attend a GSL parent/guardian information night at the Middle School on Thursday, Sept. 13 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. That evening will cover topics including packing, communication, and other details of the program. Meera Patankar, Middle School GSL manager, will email more information about the evening to parents and guardians of 8th graders.  

Charlotte Blessing is director of global education. You can reach her at