The View from the Classroom: Ballou STAY

While it is important that the One World Program has statistically improved the reading, research, writing, and presentation skills of students in DC public and public charter schools, it is equally as significant that this program gives students an outlet through which to engage with topics of personal importance. During a recent visit to Ballou STAY, an alternative high school providing DC residents the opportunity to complete their high school education, we were surprised by the number of students in Ms. Restak’s 12th grade class who had chosen to research and write about police brutality in their community. This topic has become a mainstay of both local and national media, but hearing directly from students about why it is important to them made the issue much more tangible.

When he co-founded One World Education in 2006, Eric Goldstein recognized that his students were experiencing social justice (and injustice) in deeply personal ways. By designing the program as an educationally-based outlet for these student experiences, Eric provided a public platform for sharing student voices. Over the last 10 years, students have written about their personal experiences, using the assignments as a way to develop their own research-backed suggestions for tackling these issues.

The students with whom we spoke at Ballou STAY are a perfect example of this, as many are currently facing the very real possibility of experiencing police brutality, either directly, or indirectly. This topic certainly isn’t new for our students to write about (in fact, one of our middle school Student Ambassadors wrote a fantastic piece on police brutality in 2016), but nearly three-quarters of the students in this single class chose to address the topic. These are students who are facing other life challenges as they attend Ballou STAY, and hearing about how important the topic of police brutality was for so many of these students had a strong impact on me.

On a quantitative level, we know that enabling students to write about topics that are personally relevant has a positive correlation to their reading, research, writing, and presentation skills, but it is important not to overlook the positive qualitative elements as well. Empowering student voice creates stronger classrooms, as it allows students to come together and identify their shared experiences. It also provides students with a safe, protected space to brainstorm responses to these community issues without facing outside criticism.

The students at Ballou STAY have a variety of backgrounds, and each is on their own path to graduation, but witnessing how many of the students in this one class were concerned about police brutality was an important moment. We are excited to see some of the suggestions they propose in their essays, and look forward to hearing selected seniors present their work at the 2017 College & Career Senior Challenge on April 12.