Experiential Learning Inspires, Prepares and Connects Students at GCE Lab School

Within the Chicago landscape and through experiential learning, GCE Lab School students address issues affecting the global community. Learn how.

GCE Lab School recognizes today’s students as tomorrow’s thought leaders. To maximize their potential, they need more than high test scores and GPAs. They need an understanding of today’s global challenges gained through experiential learning — and the skills, competencies, and values necessary to produce change. At this independent high school in Chicago’s Loop, students gain a true Global Citizenship Experience with Chicago as a living laboratory.

Aligned with Illinois and Common Core standards, GCE Lab School’s innovative curriculum embraces the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “These are 17 global goals to eradicate poverty, end hunger, achieve gender equality, create sustainable cities, and more. Together, they look at the main issues affecting the world today and how we can work to address them,” explains Stephanie Leite, Trainer and Curriculum Designer with GCE Lab School.

“What makes GCE’s curriculum unique is that it’s project-based learning with a purpose,” Leite says. “Students examine issues on a global scale, but also locally because each issue is relevant to Chicago, which hooks students into examining these goals in their own neighborhoods. What are the common themes and what can we do about them?”

Multidisciplinary thematic approach

GCE Lab School’s course catalog reveals the true scope of the student experience. “You won’t see algebra, biology, and English. You will see themes,” says Leite, including global health and voices, global design and government, and global enterprise and vision. “If you are a freshman, your first core humanities course is an introduction to SDGs. By examining these global goals, you also develop research and writing skills. Your first core STEAM class is called Water, where you’ll examine global water resources using earth sciences and algebra. The purpose is up front why you need to learn these academic skills.”

Experiential learning at GCE Lab School means students spend Wednesdays doing field experiences. “Students leave the classroom with their teacher, using public transportation to visit nonprofits, businesses, and other locations to test their classroom learning,” she says.

Photo credit: GCE Lab School

As they explore Water, students wade through data surrounding water resources to understand global quantities and how they’re distributed. They calculate their own water consumption compared to global peers. They then travel to the closest water source and collect as much water as they can physically carry. “If they can carry two gallons but use 40 gallons a day, they calculate how much of their day they’d need to dedicate just to carrying water from the source,” says Leite. By exploring this theme, students use every academic discipline and gain a personal perspective. “It’s so much more than looking at global statistics. They really connect to the content and develop empathy for their peers around the world.”

Field experiences develop into immersive internships for juniors and seniors that develop professional skills and introduce career opportunities.

Prepared for college success

Through project engagement, students demonstrate the skills and competencies they’ve gained. “Students have conversations with their teachers about the grading rubric. Is it an accurate assessment tool for their work? It’s a very collaborative process,” Leite says, adding that through rigor and relevance, GCE Lab School prepares responsible, engaged citizens for the 21st century.

As a member of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, GCE Lab School works with colleges and universities to look beyond test scores for a true understanding of what students achieve; 100% of graduates gain college acceptance and 80% earn merit-based scholarships.

“GCE Lab School offers learning that sticks,” Leite says. “It’s immersive and personal.”

Learn more about GCE Lab School. Visit gcelabschool.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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