Since its inception over 25 years ago, the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has lived up to its motto of being “The Little School That Could”. Vaughn was the first conversion charter school in the United States. The previously academically underperforming Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school is now a full-service, community based PreK-12 school serving students in five contiguous campuses under one charter. A 100% minority school, 98% of students come from economically disadvantaged families, and the large majority will be the first in their families to graduate high school and continue on to college or other post-secondary learning. The school serves as a critical hub for community resources, providing a home for numerous partner agencies which provide everything from after-school programs and parent education courses to medical, social and counseling services for families.

Vaughn became an ISSN school when the Vaughn International Studies Academy (VISA) opened in 2005 as one of the first schools within the network. Since then, VISA has consistently achieved extraordinary success including a 98% graduation rate compared to 77% in LAUSD and 83% across California. VISA ranks among the top 200 high schools in the state and top 100 in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Vaughn’s participation in the ISSN has spread to all campuses where for nearly 10 years professional learning has concentrated on developing and implementing global Project Based Learning units across all grades and subjects. Guided by the ISSN consultant, teachers have learned to utilize ISSN unit planning resources to focus on state content standards, connect instruction into engaging global issues, and identify ways to assess students through performances of learning in authentic, real-world settings.

Alicia Burnett is Curriculum Coordinator at VISA and formerly a teacher and head of the English Department. She says teaching through global projects “builds on the students’ strengths and encourages them to take action on global issues happening right in their community… Our students never ask ‘why are we learning this’? They learn skills to be able to address issues they really care about.” Similarly, Ruby Aparicio, a Curriculum Coordinator at the Pandaland early childhood campus said, “even our very young children have discovered there’s a big world out there and they learn to ask really good questions.”

At the end of their senior year, VISA students present portfolios of their work showing their progression in developing global competence over four years. Burnett reflected on the presentation of one senior, already accepted at UC Berkeley, who included as an artifact in her portfolio her Pre-K school uniform from her earliest days at Vaughn. Burnett said, “This young woman told us that when she wore that uniform as a little girl she never imagined where she would be now. But Vaughn imagined that for her, and now she’s going off to college to study the issues in the world she’s become passionate about. Now she really sees herself as a global citizen.”