Closing the Loop: Scholarship Checks, Feedback & Pizza

For the 24 seniors who participated in the 2017 College & Career Senior Challenge, the celebration dinner on Monday, May 8th was ostensibly a means of receiving their scholarship checks, but for us as an organization, it was more importantly an opportunity to gather open feedback about our program and the Senior Challenge Academy (SCA). This year’s celebration dinner was also unique in that we were rewarding more than just the eight students who had the highest points for their arguments. In an unprecedented fashion, this year’s students were all winners, benefitting from the incredible generosity of an anonymous donor, who was so moved by the event itself that they wanted to reward each of the seniors who weren’t selected to win a group or citywide prize. And so we gathered at the Shaw Library once more, with pizzas, thank-you notes, and checks, and offered the opportunity for the seniors to share feedback about their experience.

In K-12 education, we have increasingly recognized the value of feedback as part of the learning process. Being able to hear from the students, who had spent six Wednesday afternoons with us practicing their presentations, was an occasion we wouldn’t have again. Steph Bunton, our Director of Teaching & Learning, led students in an eye-opening Q&A, asking about their experience with the One World Program in their respective schools. For example, Tyonna Parker, first place city-wide winner, from Benjamin Banneker Academy High School shared, “I am no longer afraid of being myself on stage and being confident about a topic that is important to me.” What’s more, many students who didn't’ place in the competition shared the lasting impact of the experience. Jaila Jackson, also from Banneker shared that the SCA “brought me out of my shell,” Christopher Rodriguez from Wilson High School described the program as “perfect practice for college, which I’m starting this fall. I will carry what I learned for future presentations and research-based essays.” Another student anonymously shared that the experience was “life-changing” in a note written at the reflection dinner.

When looking at the College & Career Senior Challenge, a competitive event we have hosted for the last three years, understanding the student perspective is integral to ensuring success. This year’s event was bigger than in years past, including the $23,000 in scholarship funds that were distributed, but it was also more aligned to the students’ presentations, truly celebrating student voice and choice from start to finish. In order to ensure an even stronger event next year, giving the seniors time to share their respective experiences is invaluable. For example, Wilson De Leon from Wilson High School mentioned,“it was sometimes distracting to have to practice our presentations so close to one another.” Students also helped to think through ways of improving the program for next year by mixing up the groups in practice so that they can receive feedback from different students, teachers, and mentors each time, for example. Thinking through the tools and techniques with the students as a way to refine our work provides invaluable information, will only serve to improve the SCA for next year’s group of students.

It is through open dialogue like this that we are able to strengthen our program, taking the time each summer to incorporate student feedback, converse with teachers and administrators, and research new ways of conveying the core elements of the One World approach to teaching argumentative writing. Feedback has an important role in the classroom, but it is a necessary part of providing effective, high-quality curricula as well.

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