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October 26, 2011

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Getting passports to the wider world

EACH month, over 200 Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) Hongqiao and Early Childhood Education Center (K-5) students participate in an extracurricular program called Passport Club.

One day each month, they come en masse during their school lunch recesses, ready to show off their geography knowledge to parent volunteers.

Passport Club was created in Olympia, Washington, USA, in 1994 and designed to encourage students to learn about geography in a fun way. Students select a study level at the beginning of the school year and receive a passport that shows them their monthly "itinerary."

Each month they are responsible for studying the locations of between six and 30 (depending on their study level) countries, capital cities, continents, oceans, seas, deserts and mountain ranges.

Students study on their own time with friends and family, using maps from the program. Once each month, they gather to be quizzed by parent volunteers, who reward them with special stamps in their passports.

"We try to make it fun for kids. They get an obvious sense of accomplishment from showing off what they have learned. Plus, they love getting their passports stamped," SCIS Hongqiao Passport Club members say.

There is also a designated "Country of the Month." Students are encouraged to learn more about that country to receive additional passport reward stamps. October's "Country of the Month" is Vietnam. Students can see photos, maps, drawings and other information about the country posted on a special Passport Club bulletin board in the SCIS Hongqiao cafeteria and at the SCIS Hongqiao Passport Club webpage (

On Passport Club Day, the SCIS cafeteria presents a featured "Country of the Month" dish. October's dish is Vietnamese chicken.

The Passport Club program has been run in over 130 schools in the US alone, but it takes on added relevance at an international school like SCIS because of the diversity of the student body. Students come from all over the world.

"Kids are curious. When they see someone who looks different or hear someone speaking another language, they want to know more about them. Passport Club offers them a chance to learn where their friends, classmates, teachers and neighbors come from," says SCIS Hongqiao Lower School Principal Andrew Powell.

"If we want our kids to be good global citizens, why not start by teaching them about the globe?" said one SCIS parent volunteer.

(David Helfrich is coordinator for SCIS Hongqiao Passport Club.)


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