Sandoval prepares for her upcoming trip to the coal mines of West Virginia by reading Jeff Goodell’s “Big Coal.” Photo: Abby Meyerowitz.

With the new school year comes a new Isdell Center for Global Leadership theme: energy. Working with ICGL Global Leaders and seniors Madeline Arenth and Veronica Sandoval as well as juniors Virginia Hobbs and Sandy Lum, the ICGL program helps build critical-thinking skills that students apply to global issues. The four leaders engage in a year of research, supplemental assignments and hands-on study trips to investigate the theme and explore new efforts to conserve energy. ICGL Director Trish Anderson and upper school science teacher Kaylan Haizlip are their faculty advisors.

Created just five years ago, the ICGL program focuses on themes that the community, and especially faculty, can incorporate into their curriculum and everyday studies. The ICGL advisory board, composed of Pace parents, trustees and faculty ICGL directors from the middle and upper schools, with input from ICGL benefactor Neville Isdell, found that it was difficult for teachers to prepare for the upcoming theme without knowing it far in advance.

The advisory board thus created a three-year series of themes: climate, conservation and energy. “The three themes really fit together well,” said  Ms. Anderson. “Climate is affecting not just human populations but animal populations as well and then energy is how we’re affecting the climate as humans so we wanted to do climate as our baseline year and then add the component of the animal ecosystem and the human ecosystem.” Energy was chosen as the third theme of the three-year series for its human aspect and worldwide effect. “Energy doesn’t just look at energy sources and the transmission and use of energy, but also the way in which humans are impacting the world through their use of energy,” said Ms. Anderson.

The four ICGL global leaders, chosen through a highly competitive and selective process, were assigned several reading and research tasks to complete over the summer in order to prepare for the year ahead of them. They read “Big Coal” by Jeff Goodell, which explores the intersection between sources of energy and climate change. The leaders are now working on creating a series of videos, with information from “Big Coal,” to introduce Mr. Goodell to the Pace community and educate the students on his research before he arrives to speak at an assembly. “Jeff Goodell looks at coal mining in a way I haven’t thought to before,” said Sandoval. “Through his research, observations, and discoveries, I have learned so much about coal mining as an energy source and I can’t wait to share our findings with the rest of the Pace community.”

The global leaders’ other projects include preparing for their trips through research and further reading. In the fall, they will be traveling to Burlington, Vermont, the first town in the U.S. to run fully on renewable energy, and the Coal Mountain River region of West Virginia, to further investigate coal mining in the setting where Mr. Goodell’s book takes place. In the spring, the ICGL leaders will journey to the Rocky Mountain town of Boulder, Colorado, where they will explore a research facility working on cutting-edge renewable energy research including automated cars, solar battery and wind generation and storage.

After their travels, the leaders will make presentations to their peers as well as write articles for the Knight Times magazine describing their trips and the information they learned. “Energy is a topic that requires a lot of background information to fully understand,” said Arenth. “After all of our research, I am very eager to finally visit the places we’ve been reading about and do some hands-on learning to gain a different perspective on energy and what it really is.”

The struggle that the ICGL program has faced in the past is approaching the theme in a way that intrigues and engages the upper school students. In an effort to do so, a new arch-challenge will launch that is intended to parallel the Social Entrepreneurship challenge, aimed at kids that are not interested in Social Entrepreneurship but have a passion for the arts. Through a competition, students will have an opportunity to submit a performance or an installation that’s innovative and informative around the theme. “We are trying to focus on two broad things,” said Ms. Anderson. “We want to do a better job in engaging upper school students with all the limitations of classes and extra-curriculars in ways that ignite passions and further knowledge around the theme and also try to provide faculty with access to resources.”