(Washington, DC and Missoula, MT) – The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) has partnered with Montana-based Inspired Classroom to launch a pilot initiative that kicks off this week, ahead of the International Day of Peace on September 21. Designed for grades 6-12 classrooms across the U.S, it will engage students in developing projects that elevate peacebuilding stories from around the world in contrast with the stories of violent conflict and extremism that tend to dominate the news cycle.

The USIP & Inspired Classroom Challenge will combine teacher-led activities in the classroom, live virtual events with USIP experts, and original student research and will culminate in November with “awareness campaigns” developed by students that highlight peacebuilding efforts in different parts of the world.  

“Middle and high school students in the United States have grown up in the post-9/11 world, knowing only a world in where the U.S. is engaged in military operations overseas and threats of violent extremism loom large. It is vital that these young people understand that this is not the whole story, and that there are people and organizations working to build peace even in the most difficult circumstances,” noted Ann-Louise Colgan, director of public education at USIP. “We have launched the USIP & Inspired Classroom Challenge to encourage students to look behind the headlines and find hopeful examples that show how peace is possible, and to put their creativity to work in spreading the word.”

Over the course of the USIP & Inspired Classroom Challenge, teachers and students will receive access to educational resources, instructional support, and unique opportunities—including a Live Event Day on September 24, when classrooms across the U.S. will connect in real-time with USIP staff currently working in Pakistan, Iraq, Tunisia, and Nigeria. It will be an opportunity for educators to kickstart the Challenge in their classrooms and for students to engage directly with peacebuilders and ask them questions about their work.

USIP and Inspired Classroom staff will coordinate the Live Event Day from Bozeman High School in Bozeman, MT. With the school serving as host for the day, Bozeman students will have the opportunity to participate in the live sessions and engage with USIP staff. Having previously used other Inspired Classroom Challenges in her classroom, Bozeman educator Amy Wallner-Drake was eager to bring the USIP & Inspired Classroom Challenge into her school.

"Teaching problem solving strategies to my students is very important. This experience will provide a real-world exercise to explore the real-world ways peace can be built,” said Wallner-Drake.

For Inspired Classroom, this collaboration also marks the launch of the newly updated “IC Challenge” virtual platform, designed to get teachers and students involved in real-world problem solving in collaboration with experts. The platform curates research materials for students and helps teachers manage student work—all while guiding them through the steps of problem-solving; including brainstorming ideas, setting criteria, evaluating options, and developing action plans.

“Problem and project-based learning are the best ways to engage students in the work of the world, so they can develop the thinking skills necessary to take on issues with unknown answers. Collaborating with partners like USIP brings students to the table to discuss and respond to important global issues in a way that is structured and easily managed,” explained Kathleen Dent, CEO of Inspired Classroom.

The launch of this pilot is timed to coincide with the 2019 Peace Day Challenge. Over the past four years, the Peace Day Challenge has become a signature USIP campaign that has achieved huge reach and energy; engaging schools and organizations across the U.S., partners in conflict zones, and tens of millions of people via social media. By participating in the USIP & Inspired Classroom Challenge, teachers and students can help bring the 2019 theme to life: Peace is Possible. It Takes Action. It Takes All of Us. 
The USIP & Inspired Classroom Challenge is free and open to educators and students in grades 6-12 in the United States. To learn more about the program, including how to register, visit us online or contact Allison Sturma at asturma@usip.org.

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