Last night I attended a learning celebration at BHS that saw this year’s 9th grade students, the first members of BHS’s new 9th Grade Academy, present learning from their “Making a Change” project. The project challenged students to investigate race, class, gender, and sexuality through a variety of dynamic projects in which they attempted to “solve” a problem they identified. BHS 9th grade teacher Jocelyn Fletcher said that students were encouraged to be bold in their thinking and learning, and to be unafraid of failure as a result of taking a risk. Their efforts and work were all about bringing attention to difficult issues that we often avoid in schools and in our community. The attempt to solve a problem and to shed light on an important topic is its own victory.
When I arrived, a presentation about gender stereotypes was underway. It was a video project in which the creators had asked other students ranging in age from middle to high school about what gender stereotypes they were aware of. The responses, while not totally unexpected (girls wear pink and are sensitive; guys like sports), were still eye opening in thinking about how early gender awareness and pressure mounts in a person’s life. The Q and A was equally revealing as the audience asked the presenters about their theories on where stereotypes come from, why they persist over time, and what in our culture is currently combatting them. One of the students identified openly gay professional athletes as something that’s currently helping to change the conversation about gender.
After the gender project, I saw an Anti-Bullying play put on by a company of 8 students, who through improv and open discovery during class, found a shared interest in combatting bullying. I’d heard about the play and knew the students had already performed it for student audiences at other schools and I could see why. I was blown away by their performance. It was a combination of personal testimony, chorus like numbers that asked tough questions and employed word association, and short scenes that showed where bullying might happen. What was unexpected to me was the range of bullying they presented, and that, by default, goes on in students’ lives. There were scenes of verbal taunting, physical threats, as well as cyber bullying. They showed how bullying can be an in-your-face confrontation, but also simple teasing on a bus or in a classroom. They didn’t hide from how easy it can be to get caught up in bullying and how innocuous it can seem. There were also scenes of standing up to bullying, which added a nice counterpoint.
They finished to thunderous applause.
Though I only was able to see two presentations in person, others included:
- Raising Awareness: LBGTQQ
- Autism: Think Before You Speak
- The Race Project
- Our Day at King Street Youth Center
- Coding for Equity: Gender and Class
- Changing the Way we Approach Learning
- Teaching English to Adults
- The Power of Magic
The highlight of the evening was surely seeing BHS students shine. Their pride and hard work was palpable and there was a great energy to the whole event, which also provided refreshments and free childcare. It was also amazing to see so many community members in the school. Of course, parents and the community regularly are at BHS for plays, sports, graduation, and other traditional events. But in terms of looking at student work, engaging directly with the fruits of labors undertaken in the classroom, certainly this powerful event is the kind of work we hope to see more. The 9th Grade Academy is doing some truly innovative and exciting work and it’s only their first year!
Well done everyone.