Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Seminar Project Abstract

In looking at the Meriwether Lewis Elementary School website highlighted in Will Richardson’s book, I determined that I really needed something that had a front page that wasn’t going to change or have its most important information get buried at the bottom of my project, like a blog. I realized that I want the look, functionality and permanence of a website with dropdown menus, but with the ease of creating content like on a blog or wiki. In talking with Dr. Chen last week, I explained that I teach at an independent studies high school diploma program called Jefferson AEWC. Since it is an open entry/open exit program, there is a constant influx of new students who always need to be oriented about their new school responsibilities, weekly conference and attendance schedules, book check-out policies, where to get materials, how to read their assignment sheets and, not least, the critical steps required to graduate, which we absolutely expect they will. It has become entirely too time-intensive to explain all of this from a couple of times a day to a couple of times an hour, and trying to do it extemporaneously risks leaving out critical details. In traditional high schools, the incoming freshmen get oriented on special days or weeks, meet with buddy seniors who give campus tours and answer social questions, and meet all of their teachers who explain their classes at the beginning of a semester or school year with syllabi. The high school diploma program I teach in has no comparison on many levels. Beyond the aforementioned details, the students hardly know one another to begin with, nor do they regularly attend at the same time or even on the same day in two consecutive weeks, making new social connections almost impossible. Unless they become aware of A Place Called Home's blooming programs and take advantage of them, those AEWC students who are uninvolved and unaware, orbit within their limited paths of obscurity and isolationism as enviable opportunities revolve around them disappearing into black holes.

Our school (which is really a two-room branch site with a staff of six) is housed within a vibrant, dynamic community youth center with evolving programming. After teaching there for a year or so, I was stunned to learn that students of mine who had attended our school for over six months were completely unaware of the opportunities available to them at A Place Called Home. They would walk down the hall past the "heart" of the community center, come into class, turn in assignments, receive new ones and go home without even checking to see what free food was being served. They also wouldn't take advantage of the free music, dance or art classes. They wouldn't go see the career counselors upon my suggestion to begin developing a transitional plan for post-high school. And finally, I was boggled to realize that they also wouldn't attend the Teen Night events--either stand-up comedy, spoken word/slam poetry events, or talent shows with great music and free food--which were created with our student population in mind. In traditional high schools, these types of events would be announced during homeroom or zero period, advertised by banner signs streaming from cafeteria or student center walls, or at least be mentioned by a classmate in passing: "You going to the dance on Friday?" Upon examining all of this, however, I can now see that they possibly might have had information overload their first few days. What I might value as an incredible opportunity for them, my students might experience as an auditorial nightmare, incapable of processing it in all of its complex layers. Confined by my human limitations, my frustrations and disappointments stemmed from forgetting to tell a new student something that I had mentally footnoted to share. I would nail the school side explanation to them in full, and then inevitably forget to tell them about the free prom gown program or dental cleanings happening at APCH over the weekend.

For students who already lack organizational skills and weren’t functioning highly in the traditional classroom model to begin with, I cannot think of a more efficient or better information dissemination tool than the web for them to see, watch, listen and read all of this new, detailed information at their own pace, with the ability to continually refer to it. And for teachers who are too busy to stop in mid-sentence to explain another minute, yet mighty detail, to have to just do it this one last time, electronically, is completely relieving. Thus, in addition to explaining this alternative high school model, I will show them the abundant opportunities available to them in the art, music, sports, and youth leadership programs, as well as encourage them to use the on-site Teen Center, computer lab and counseling services by using www.edu20.org to manage all of this. It has always been our vision for our high school students to maximize the support services offered to teens in this neighborhood by APCH, and I am hoping this project furthers the bridge of collaboration between us. Finally, in the spirit of web 2.0, I also envision my students reviewing an APCH experience or program they participate in on our class blog to attract others, or pointing other students towards a website or article they found relevant to a specific assignment in government, psychology or english.

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