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How can forming community partnerships directly inform students' interactions with others?

HannahB's picture

The 9th grade African American history students I work with have been working on their “Semester of Service” for almost two months now. This particular class wants to write children books about African American history in Philadelphia, which they will share with 3rd graders at a neighboring elementary school. For the last few weeks, however, the students who have been tasked with creating the stories and drawings for the picture books have been in a tough spot—they have struggled to agree on what they want produce, how many books, what types of stories, etc. Their lack of group vision has caused many of the students to grow frustrated, as it hasn’t felt like they are making progress.

But last week, something changed. My placement teacher invited a local artist who works extensively with children to visit class. She showed the children the books she creates with young kids, many of which incorporated not only stories and art but also unique structures—like cool pop-ups, cut-outs, and unique fabrics and other materials. After sharing these examples with the class, this artist began posing a lot of logistical questions regarding how many different books the students wanted to create, did they want duplicates of the stories, how big did they want the books to be, how long were the stories, etc.?

At first, the students did not have answers for these very specific, grounded questions. BUT from their lack of response arose a newfound sense of urgency and potential. This artist challenged them to consider not only the individual stories and pictures that they would create but also their larger vision for the books and what they wanted to accomplish. The students spent the rest of the class period working as a large group, actually writing down and generating “next steps” and organizing their story and vision. I witnessed a similar process happen in the other 9th grade class that I work in the previous week when an individual from the Enterprise Center came to speak to them about the lot that they will be cleaning up and creating a pop-up garden in. In other words, in both cases, bringing in outside individuals who had previous experience in their respective types of work prompted students to more deeply consider the logistical components of their own projects.

In my opinion, one of the greatest benefits of doing a long-term service project, such as the “Semester of Service” that my 9th graders are doing, is that students can learn to collaborate with community partners. I believe there is an inherent, invaluable benefit in forming partnerships with people from the community, who can provide insider knowledge and access. Furthermore, collaborating with people who do this work for their career can offer up important new insights that outsiders or people new to a certain type of work might not know. Having these “experts” ask the students logistical questions was so much more valuable than just having the teacher ask them, as these other individuals hold insider knowledge and can show students that tapping into resources and knowledge, outside of your own sphere, is entirely valuable.

I am really interested in further exploring how this broader valuation of forming partnerships can relate directly to multiculturalism. I think Tuck is a great connector, as I would hope that on an individual basis and across, race, class, religion, and whatever else might separate us, we can begin to seek out the strengths and the knowledge of others. But, I’m not sure if this link is clear for students. How can you use the broader values instilled in a “Semester of Service” and help students translate these into their daily interactions with people? 


jccohen's picture

key connections


What a great turn of events you describe here.  I wonder whether the timing - so that the students had time to get frustrated about the process - made the learning here even more significant, as the visitors were crucial to helping students work in a (newly stretched) zone of proximal development.  It seems to me that they are in a sense doing new and 'real world' work here, involving collaboration, decisions, implications, real audience and purpose...and that this can take both the risks and the gains to a new level.  I'm not quite clear on where you're going with your last paragraph, and curious to hear more about what you're taking from this to your own thinking/practice as an educator...