Summer Learning Success for One World

At the beautifully renovated Dunbar High School one recent afternoon, the bleachers in the gym were overflowing with hundreds of scholars from Higher Achievement’s Summer Academy. They had come together for their annual “Olympics of the Mind” event to celebrate a successful summer of learning. There were energetic chants, beautiful student-made banners, and sun streaming through the huge windows on the back wall of the gym. Scholars were dressed in a range of brightly colored rainbow t-shirts worn proudly as they excitedly engaged with their teams.

As part of the ceremony at the event’s conclusion, Higher Achievement invited the One World Education team to present awards for the top essays of the summer, selected from teacher nominations across all seven Summer Academy sites. The gym was surprisingly hushed when Steph Bunton, One World’s Director of Teaching and Learning, stepped to the microphone to announce the first winner. “Alhaji,” she said. And the gym exploded in applause as Alhaji made his way, with a bounce in his step, to retrieve the plaque in honor of his achievement.

As Alhaji returned to his seat, there were hugs, high-fives, and pats on the back. With popular media often highlighting stories about inner-city students discouraging one another from learning, the full embrace Alhaji received while climbing twelve rows back up into the bleachers showed that at Higher Achievement sites, the drive to learn, and even celebrate others’ learning, is alive and well.

“The program was hard,” Alhaji said. “But the lessons were so specific I found it easy to know what to do.” When asked about his topic, he replied, “My subject was climate change. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know how many species we already were losing, especially aquatic species.” In his essay, Alhaji argued that climate change is a long-term issue and children should be taught about it now, since they are the leaders of the future.

Many other scholars shared Alhaji’s enthusiasm for One World and his sense that the program was demanding. “It’s not easy,” another student said. “I had to look through so many articles to prove my claim.”

The research stage can be long and tiring as students search for evidence that both supports their claim and rebuts the counterclaim. However, the research skills learned and real-world connections made are some of the One World Program’s biggest strengths, says teacher Virginia Parks.

Although the program was challenging, many teachers shared that their scholars were completely engaged in the process. At the Alexandria site, scholars were so excited about finishing their essays that they even worked on them during lunch and recess!

As scholars filed out the door, teachers dropped off their manila folders stuffed with student assessments. Our month-long pilot program was complete, except for a final analysis of just how much progress scholars made with their research and argumentative writing skills.

We are thankful for all the support we received from Higher Achievement’s leaders, center directors, and teachers. It was a privilege to share in their work with summer learners!

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