Friday, December 16, 2016

What's the Story!?

Two Hazen high school students are participating in an exciting opportunity at Middlebury College with students from around the state. Read about it here:

Hi! I’m Clara Lew-Smith, a Hazen junior, and I want to tell you about a learning opportunity that’s interesting, relevant, and challenging. “What’s the Story?” is a social justice and action class through Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, unique both in its content and form. Another student, sophomore Sidney Carr, and I are participating, and so far we’ve attended one day-long meeting and two retreats spanning a day and a half over weekends in November and December. The course is student driven, so the year starts with every student spending time exploring an issue which they perceive to be affecting Vermont communities. This year, these ranged from environmental issues involving pollution in Lake Champlain, to sexism and the perpetuation of the gender binary, to educational progress and equity. Once they have spent about a month and a half researching, exploring the depth of the issue, and blogging about their progress in response to different prompts every week, every student creates a short presentation on their topic to be pitched at the November retreat. We spent a weekend hearing about each others’ work and then undergoing the messy and complicated process of grouping ourselves into teams with one common goal. In those teams (there are five or six, each one with 1-5 members), we planned our goals for the intervening month until the December retreat. In my team, we created a shared Google Folder to hold our progress, including the notes and resources we’d drafted in our first team meeting. We planned to meet once a week via Google Hangout to stay on the same track, and we have a document on which we record our meeting notes and our plans and action for each week. This helps us not only divide the work, but stay unified, especially since our team members live in four different places around the state.

Every team will have a final project, most likely a documentary, so our most recent retreat was focused on preparing for interviews (although we also reevaluated and set new goals and explored topics such as our own limiting political bias). We learned how to operate multiple pieces of equipment (each team gets a “media kit”), navigated the various facets of intentionally planning and filming an interview with a Middlebury film professor, and practiced using our new skills. We meet again in January, and the intervening period is to be used to collect as many perspectives as possible through interviews.

“What’s the Story?” is incredible in that in order for students to succeed, they must develop not only the passion to make positive change, but the mature communication and cooperation skills to work within their team and to convey their message. The process allows for students to decide how and when they communicate and what they’re responsible for, and every student has a blog to record their learning, the obstacles they face, and their development both as an individual and as it pertains to their individual topic. My topic this year is Equity in Education for New American and English Language Learner Students, and if you’re interested in learning more about my work so far, feel free to contact me or read my blog: http://whatsthestory.middcreate.net/vermont/category/clara-lew-smith/