Over the last trimester, students in Mel Bride’s Spanish 4 culture class have been engaged in some interesting research. Using New Bedford as their classroom, the students have explored the challenges and opportunities available to English Language Learners in the city through in-person interviews with students and educators, as well as city officials including the Superintendent of Schools and the Mayor of New Bedford. They have made several site visits to various types of schools from public to charter to private schools, as well as youth programs available to students after school. In between these visit, they have been researching their ideas for creating a program of their own design to best serve this group of learners in our local city.
Last week, the students had the opportunity to unveil their program ideas to a panel of educators and non-profit leaders from New Bedford, many of the same people they visited in their offices weeks before as they were learning more about the issues facing the population they hoped to serve. The panel was there to share feedback on the presentations from delivery to word choice, to what funders would expect in a presentation, to substantive suggestions about their budgets and plans, even sharing other organizations they might partner with. It was great creative brainstorming with everyone sharing ideas to polish the proposals just a bit more. It was fantastic to have these community leaders mentor our students and share their experience.
The proposed solutions were mostly all based on student interests, such as combining an after-school homework study hall with some time to play soccer after. One student wanted to offer creative writing, another afterschool art, another a learn to row program, another a learn to sail program combined with marine science. Someone suggested teaching students tech skills and coding through a popular video game called Minecraft, someone else hoped to teach about sustainability and encourage environmental awareness and action. Most suggested partnering with local schools or established non-profits to host their programs, offering multilingual volunteers plenty of options for helping out. With each one requiring the creation of a program budget and consideration of real potential funding sources and staffing needs, students learned how to identify grant opportunities through community and corporate foundations. Lastly, they learned how costly transportation can be, and how partnering with successful organizations in the use of space, resources, and volunteers can help reduce costs.
Each proposal showed careful sensitivity to the way ELL children might learn best, noting that being paired closely with a mentor doing something they enjoyed and found fun was likely to be most beneficial. Most proposals engaged the students in a creative activity while also providing time for homework or language practice; most programs were immersive, but with multilingual teachers/mentors to help. The students also considered family needs, cultural norms and the importance of meeting students where they are. The students continued to reference the relationships they have built since September with their partner students at Roosevelt Middle School, acknowledging that students learn when they feel known and seen and that relationships are at the heart of all learning.
The panelists praised the students’ ability to create relationships and leverage them for their learning, sharing that the skills they learned around networking, asking good questions, and seeking to listen and understand before trying to solve a problem were critical life skills to use in any profession.
Well done, all! Which project will end up as one of Tabor’s next student-led service projects in 2020?