Edina Educators Bring Global Competency to the Classroom

Normandale teacher Bianca Suglia spent time in Columbia to explore what it means to be globally competent.

After teaching at Edina’s Normandale French Immersion School for 10 years, Bianca Gelia Suglia is using her job as a peer coach to bring specialized knowledge and understanding, referred to as global competence, into Edina schools. When Suglia first came to the United States, she found that learning the language and immersing herself in American culture was necessary to live her life here. In fact, she believes knowledge and appreciation for other cultures is important for all students and teachers.

Recently, Suglia’s personal and educational experience merged these passions, thanks to an enriching opportunity facilitated by Edina Public Schools (EPS). The Edina Education Fund (ED Fund) provided a generous grant to Suglia and eight other Edina teachers that allowed them to embark on a 15-month journey toward global competence certification.

“The global competency cohort is a small group of teachers committed to developing a deep literacy in global issues,” says Randy Smasal, director of teaching and learning at EPS. The program was developed by Columbia University, the Asia Society and World Savvy, and involves a rigorous certification process including global fieldwork. The grant allowed Suglia and her colleagues to be immersed in another country for two weeks. Suglia, along with two other Edina educators went to Colombia. Three other team members traveled to Ecuador and the remaining three went to Uganda. “This was such and enriching and invigorating journey,” Suglia says.

In Colombia, Suglia’s group spent full days at Sabio Caldas, a school formed from an alliance between private and public schools and the government to provide quality education opportunities for the area’s low-income population. “Despite the fact that Sabio Caldas is situated in a high-risk area in Bogotà,” Suglia says, “the school represents a true haven and oasis for the community.” And despite large class sizes, very few resources and challenging political situations, Suglia was impressed by the deep and genuine solidarity that exists among Sabio Caldas’ teachers.

“From the very beginning, I sensed that Colombia is a fascinating world of contrasts and conflicts,” says Suglia. She was struck by the gorgeous haciendas, luxurious museums and vibrant people contrasted with images of extreme poverty, unsafe streets, and intense feelings of fear and panic regarding the country’s political situation.

The experience inspired her to provide a meaningful space for reflection and exploration of new teaching strategies and techniques that might allow students and teachers to discover other cultures while in classrooms right here in Edina. While traveling abroad isn’t an option for everyone, Suglia works with local educators to create lesson plans that provide different perspectives. She hopes students’ ideas and viewpoints will be expanded by learning about other cultures. And she encourages all people to become bilingual. “In Colombia, it has become the norm to speak multiple languages so you can connect and understand the world you live in better,” she says.

“Global competency helps you see other points of view,” continues Suglia. “Becoming globally competent helps you keep an open mind about people, cultures, and the world.”

According to Smasal, EPS shares Suglia’s passion. “Our learners need the skills, literacy and attitudes to be successful in a rapidly changing, globally diverse and interconnected world. To best prepare our learners we must ensure that our educators are globally competent as well,” Smasal says. And “none of this could have been possible without the support of our ED Fund and a private community donor.”