Parkway Montessori Middle-schoolers Are Telling their Own Stories, Linking Personal Issues and Social Justice
Beginning in January 2016, 500 6th, 7th and 8th grade students from Parkway Montessori & Community School on St. Paul’s east side participated in a new initiative designed to better engage them in their education and to help close the achievement gap. After a semester spent creating their own personal stories on video, they celebrated their successes at a special festival at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in May 2016.
Post-doctoral researcher Kari Smalkoski and professor Jigna Desai and a small team of undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts are working with English language arts teachers at Parkway to develop and pilot a new curriculum that teaches the students to use digital tools and devices—specifically, iPads—to create their own stories. This is a pilot for a 5-year longitudinal project designed to address Minnesota’s very large educational achievement gap. Instead of focusing on standard educational benchmarks and disparities, the University team is shifting focus to one of structures of inequality, and engaging with what the youth already know and how that can support impactful and increased learning.
Storytelling supports traditional learning goals such as enhanced literacy, cultural analysis, and effective communication, but also other important aspects of education including social and emotional learning, self-empowerment, and community building.
The goals of the project include empowering youth by creating opportunities to tell their stories; challenging the conventional wisdom around educational disparity and opportunity through the voices of our youth; improving social and emotional learning of students; and college readiness by introducing middle school students to the University of Minnesota and the College of Liberal Arts through campus visits and access to undergraduate students and faculty of color, creating a strong K-12 to higher education connection.
The video festival on campus included the screening of 8 -10 of the student videos and comments by University President Eric Kaler, College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman, and Generation Next Executive Director RT Rybak. Following the screening at Northrop, the Parkway students had a special tour of the University campus.
Hosted by the University’s Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, this project is a community-engaged partnership between the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center; Sprockets - the city of St. Paul’s out-of-school time network; and Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School, a St. Paul Public School.
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