“When students are encouraged to think and learn outside the box, not only do they become more involved in their education, but they have a learning experience that creates change”
— Jodie Woodruff, teacher at the MET School in Providence, RI.
The above quote played over and over in my mind as I worked my way through the activities and workshops at Boston International Newcomers Academy’s (BINcA) Diversity and Democracy Day. The program, a first for the school, was described as “a special day of workshops and learning to celebrate our diversity and educate ourselves about U.S. history, democracy, and social justice. Students will leave more informed, empowered, and motivated to engage and participate in their community.”
BINcA is a school in Dorchester, MA, where 100 percent of the students are immigrants who, collectively, speak more than 30 languages. I thought the mission and goal of the day was fitting considering the school’s own mission, and relevant to the current discussions on diversity, democracy, and social justice happening across our country.
The programming included over 50 workshops; the majority developed with student input or was led by students, and covered topics such as “Journalism and Activism: Asking the Tough Questions”; “The Election, the Constitution, and Civil Rights”; “Find Your Voice: Muslim Community at BINcA” (led by four Muslim students); and “ Be Strong, Be Tough: Labels Do Not Define You” (led by two seniors). I participated in three workshops that focused on leadership, activism and community engagement, and advocacy. There was a thread throughout the sessions; students were offered unique and innovative opportunities to self-direct their learning.
My favorite session asked students to use a piece of canvas, paint, and brushes to create an artistic commentary on this country, how they were feeling, and/or the current state of politics in America. I found the art commentaries exceptionally sophisticated—students shared their fears and hopes for themselves and their families. It was also a great way for students to see how their peers felt and what feelings they did or didn’t share regarding the topics. Providing a more personalized way for students to connect big ideas to themselves and to their community through visual storytelling seemed to deepen their understandings of the themes of social justice and politics.
Other sessions included an opportunity for students to discover ways to write and share their own stories by first finding inspiration from hip-hop artist Shawn Carter’s “Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’” Op-Doc in the New York Times, as well as a facilitated discussion where students were given the tools to develop tangible policy solutions to problems they felt were most challenging and urgent.
Based on conversations I had with a few students, I know that this day was as enriching for them as it was for me. I had a firsthand view of how leading with students can nurture moments of collaboration and problem solving that are by students, for students, and beneficial to the broader community. Civic education and U.S. history are not always easy topics to grasp, at least for me. Knowing how to think critically about issues in our society; building deeper connections to myself, my country, my community and the world; and learning how to let my voice be heard was something that took years and didn’t fully coalesce until adulthood. I know I would have appreciated a day of learning like this while I was in high school, and so I appreciate the efforts of the leadership, students, and community at BINcA.
To learn more about how student voice boosts motivation and engagement, and promotes student success, check out this blog. If you’re interested in the program agenda, you can find it here. If you would like to share your efforts to increase student voice and engagement at your school, or to share an innovative curriculum or lesson, email us.