Where the Light Travels: Creative Media Builds Confidence and Digital Literacy
“Soon the digital divide will not be between the haves and the have-nots. It will be between the know-hows and the non-know-hows.”
– Stanford lecturer Howard Rheingold
Where the Light Travels is an after-school enrichment class designed to integrate photography and digital media into core areas of learning such as English Language Arts and Social Science. This project supports refugee youth in San Diego, creating engagement and connection by bridging hands-on creativity with technology and art.
The need for technology and visual communication has never been more important. This was highlighted as the world was sent into isolation with the impacts of COVID-19. “We use digital photos and videos to share our understanding, to connect with our communities, and to express ourselves,” stated Jana McBeath, Media Educator and Youth Council Coordinator with Outside the Lens. Receiving a three-year grant from the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation is allowing McBeath’s project, Where the Light Travels, to transform an elementary after school digital media class into a safe space to build confidence while increasing digital and media literacies. She has seen firsthand how having media skills to use in life can change a student’s focus from self-identity, to family, community and eventually become a new language to use worldwide.
What were the goals of the project and how were they achieved?
Where the Light Travels was implemented virtually in partnership with the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program as an after-school class with goals to:
- integrate ELA and core academic subjects using photography, videography, animation, and mixed media
- build confidence and engagement in students and their academic subjects
- create a safe space to encourage storytelling, identity and creativity
- showcase projects at a community exhibit honoring student work from throughout the year
Craft boxes with various art supplies and props were provided, as well as sealed envelopes with project materials. iPads loaded with apps for animation, photography, digital art, film editing, and other resources were also given to each student. To help combat screen fatigue, now that all of the students were learning online every day, the focus of the projects relied on the incorporation of tactile and hands-on activities, even though the project was designed to enhance digital literacy.
Consistent engagement became one of the major components of success. This was achieved in many ways. In addition to opening the sealed project envelopes online together each week, an emphasis was put on daily connection, using digital tools like Flipgrid and Google Chat for sharing jokes, art and ideas separate from the specific project.
Students were encouraged to experiment, explore and create in their free time in whatever interested them most and report back with self-directed projects. This was an opportunity to see what interested each student most, and reinforce the ELA and Skill standards in the discussion and evaluation of each student’s work. The consistent engagement, paired with the flexibility to adapt the curriculum to address varying curiosities, concerns and interests made the pivot to a virtual afterschool program arguably more successful than originally envisioned.
What progress did they make to their goals?
The projects created by the students really speak to the progress made in this program. The confidence of the students shines throughout and the results were far reaching. From comedic YouTube videos to dance performances and tactile science experiments, all of the projects incorporated some form of digital media problem solving, verbal and written communication, which addressed the crucial ELA, 21st Century Skills and digital media literacy needs.
What challenges were experienced along the way and what are the ideas for improving the project?
The onset of COVID-19 changed the goal for creative outlets to a necessity and was the biggest challenge for the project. What was meant to be an engaging in person experience now had to be redesigned to an accessible virtual setting that still allowed for meaningful connections for students who were already spending the day learning online. A lot of inventiveness went into pivoting this project to be something joyful for the students to look forward to during what ended up being a very difficult year for them in so many ways.
How has Where the Light Travels affected the learning of students and/or teachers?
Based on feedback from the students, parents, tutors and partners of the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program, the effect on students was solidly positive. Engagement was achieved, as well as a returning student base. The students were truly able to nurture and develop their identity using their own passions and hobbies to explore interests and curiosities using the iPads and craft kits.
Exciting plans for the Future
As the project entered its second year, still virtual, the number of participating students doubled and included all previous students from the first year. Whether the program continues online, in person, or possibly even as a hybrid, the plans for the future include continuing with the student-led curriculum, utilizing techniques to stay highly adaptable, focus on mixed media projects, introducing advanced photographic processes, and keeping the asynchronous work and connections between classes.
Learn more about supporting digital literacy for learners who are refugees:
Aquaponics: Growing Our Own Food Sustainably
Learning how to grow food engages culinary students and harvests real-world science in this featured project.
In an age of environmental unpredictability and rising cost of living one thing not being discussed enough is self-sustainability. Understanding how to grow and prepare one’s own food is an incredible life skill to develop, regardless of one’s chosen profession. This is something that Michael Kosko and the educators at Al Raby School for Community and Environment, Chicago, IL are taking on right now through their program “Aquaponics: Growing Our Own Food Sustainably.” By teaching students how to grow their own herbs and vegetables, alongside certain types of fish they are hoping to create a program that produces students mindful about their environment and who can also cook up a decent, healthy filet of fish. This program will also provide students with the opportunity to explore issues of food justice and food deserts which many students experience within their communities.
My students are building aquaponics units next week. Plans from @lifehacker, funded by the #teacherincentivegrant pic.twitter.com/iiUhA0FBkV
— Michael Kosko (@MrKosko) January 25, 2015
Recipe for Success
This project is unique to the Chicago area. While there are many culinary and horticulture/agriculture programs in the city, Al Raby will be the first to combine these two types of programs into one. The Office of CTE (career and technical education) Programs provided equipment for the culinary lab. In the grow lab, students will grow salad greens, kale, and various herbs while taking care of tilapia and koi. Eventually, this program is looking to partner with local businesses to sell the student harvest. In the classroom, students will study the life cycles of plants and fish and the optimal way to grow both. Since this class will be heavily rooted in the scientific method and student inquiry, students will also study how different variables affect plant growth including temperature, light intensity, nutrient/chemical levels, water quality, diseases, and aquatic pests. And since no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are used, all produce grown in the lab is classified as organic according to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition.
Building a Grow Lab and Disseminating Learning
Ultimately, the goal of the project was to build out a grow lab in the school to support their preexisting culinary/food science career and technical education (CTE) program when those classes began in September 2016. Accomplishing that meant getting the grow lab up and running, which they did, leading to a bountiful harvest in May. Students who took the vegetables home came back with rave reviews from family and friends.
Currently they are working with the Garfield Park Conservatory, to create a teen docent program made up exclusively of Al Raby culinary students. Fifteen of their freshmen students interviewed for ten spots on the inaugural docent team. During the summer, these students work to create educational experiences for area elementary students and during the school year they will be released from their culinary classes once a month to lead tours for second and third graders.
Along with those benefits, this past summer the selected students ran experiments in the grow lab with Akilah Henderson, the Student Engagement Coordinator at the Conservatory. Under Akilah’s guidance the students will tracked the growth of crops on the conservatory’s farm and in the lab, building on the Botany students’ work from the past semester.
Meeting Challenges and Planning for the Future
They were not without difficulties. Unfortunately they discovered too late that the district requires schools to obtain special permission to raise fish. Because of this, the first round in the lab had to do without the fish. But David Blackmon, the program coordinator for all the culinary CTE programs throughout the district, toured the lab earlier in the month and is working with central office to obtain permission for Al Raby to start raising tilapia and koi next school year. Fortuitously, fish can easily be added to the current units in the lab with no modifications once permission is obtained.
Regardless of the fish-hiccups it sounds like the students and educators at Al Raby are off to a great start. It sounds like before long they’ll be swimming in so much fish and so many vegetables they’ll have have trouble giving them away!
Plans for a dinner for district leaders and community stakeholders are in the works to share the success and help others savor the impact of the project.
- Nonprofit hopes to spread aquaponic farming to schools across the country (PBS)
- Aquaponics STEM Food Growing Systems in the Classroom (Aquaponics USA)
- Classroom Gardening: Hydroponics or Aquaponics (Bright Agrotech)
- Aquaponics Education for Schools | Systems & Curriculum (Ecolife Conservation)
Microfinance In Action: Students Impact Global Economies
Microfinance in Action Revisited
It’s been an exciting, tumultuous, but ultimately productive three years for the educators and students at Southwind High School in Tennesee. Those involved with the Microfinance in Action (MFiA) project have seen a lot of success despite some setbacks along the way. But the outpouring of support from the community and other educators has helped keep the flow uninterrupted.
What is Microfinance in Action (MFiA)?
When MFiA was originally proposed, it was proposed as a three-year project that would take students through the process of learning about microfinancing, and how important it can be to stimulate the economy. Especially in resource and job depressed areas in this country and abroad. They were also tasked with learning about and distributing KIVA loans to small businesses. It also proposed that students travel to low-income areas, or areas affected by natural disasters to get a real look at what poverty looks like and hopefully become passionate about ending it. In our blog we explored what an integrated curriculum exploring globalization and economics looked like and heard about the real world skills and field experiences (Microfinance in Action, August 2013). Results were inspiring.
Exploring Local Economics through Field Experiences
One of their main goals was to leave the textbook behind and create an environment of practical learning, where students would interact with their community, and communities beyond theirs to get a greater perspective on what economics and Microfinance in particular means in their day-to-day lives. So they started a journey to some of the most economically devastated states in the nation. Beginning with their own.
Making a Global Impact
They began this journey along the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis and worked their way down through the Delta to New Orleans. From there they moved to the home of the Lakota Tribes and finally to the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic. No one could accuse them of being lazy travelers, that’s for sure. And while I could spoil you with the details of their trip, that would ultimately take away from what was the end game goal for this project; creating a book entitled Microfinance in Action: A Guidebook for Teenagers. They just recently returned from Guatemala where they finished filming the documentary portion of their proposal, which should be edited later this summer. That documentary, along with the book they plan on publishing, will be a great resource for educators who might want to try this model at their own schools.
Other goals they had proposed were setting up a KIVA Club loan program where students could work with accredited loan companies to set up microfinance loans for those in need at home and abroad. This ended up being far more successful than they had anticipated but came with an unfortunate cost. Biba Kavass, the innovative educator behind this proposal, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And while she continues to work on the project, she will soon have to take a step back and let others lead in her place. But the community rallied. Roughly to the tune of $150,000 and climbing. Because of this community support they’ve already made 148 loans out to people in over 50 countries. The next step is setting up a larger and more focused KIVA Club loan program, working with SME Uganda to make slightly larger loans available to people in need.
Follow MFiA Online
The project website, microfininaction.weebly.com, is also doing well, having received it’s 1000th unique visitor recently. This website is where Biba, and those who will continue in her stead, chronicle their work as well as get in contact with prospective partners.
Despite the unforeseeable setbacks they faced it would seem like MFiA has been a great success, in every avenue they proposed. The students, educators, and community all benefited from this project, which is something we value here at McCarthy Dressman. We hope to see many more innovative projects, like this one, funded in the future.
Mariachi membership tunes up grades and turns on pride
Members of Tucson’s Mariachi Casabel Youth Organization take pride in new costumes and higher grades
Last year the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation funded the Mariachi Cascabel Youth Organization (MCYO), an innovative program attempting to combine academics with community engagement using music, specifically Mariachi music, as the binding agent. With Tucson’s Sunnyside Unified School District’s diminished music budgets there didn’t seem to be much hope for the group, especially since they needed new costumes. For mariachi, image is just as important as musical ability. Their costumes, called Trajes de Charro, don’t come cheap, especially if you want quality and authenticity. Organizer Daniel Dong proposed a unique project for improving not only the image of the musicians but also their success in math and science. Funded in 2013 by the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation, this unique and special music education program has already made an exceptional impact.
… students in arts-integrated classrooms are more creative,
and effective at problem solving
than their counterparts who are not in arts-integrated classrooms.”
– Arts in Education Research Study, Kennedy Center ArtsEdge
Setting the tone for academic success
Research has indicated that students that who receive music education tend to do better, across the board, academically. This program takes it a step further by including a cultural component that has true community value. Daniel Dong’s idea was to help the Mariachi Cascabal Youth Organization Program, serving a primarily Hispanic district, be available to play in the community for all the most important celebrations. Even before funding they were able to play at a number of events including the Annual Latina Breast Cancer Conference and Mexican Mother’s Day festivals. He also coordinated within the school district to help MCYO get regular gigs at school carnivals and other related events.
Because within the district there is no other program like this, demand to get in is high. Here’s where the alignment with academics found a harmonious fit. The program instituted a requirement where students must retain passing grades or seek tutoring for those subjects. Now, not only were the students getting the benefits of a musical education, they were also more motivated to perform well in their other courses.
Costumes and instruments build pride, Tutors nurture brains
Because looking authentic was important for their success as legitimate mariachis within the community, the Foundation’s investment also went toward new costumes for the organization. They have currently received sixteen out of seventeen Trajes and are just waiting for the final jacket to come in to make their ensemble complete. The funding also provided new instruments for the group including two Prelude Violins, two Michoacána Vihuelas and four Yamaha Guitars from a local music company. Furthermore, students received three digital video cameras from Walmart to help document their experiments with the MCYO.
While a couple of students have fallen behind in their other academic courses, the tutors in math and science that have been provided are helping them reach their academic goals. In September, they held a large parent meeting to inform students and parents of all the benefits students receive by being involved in the MCYO. The prospects laid out got many parents excited which in turn helps the students realize the value of such a program.
There were, as always, some unexpected but not insurmountable costs. Trajes wear out quickly and they found they needed to bring their tailor up from Mexico City to do the measurements to make sure they got the highest quality Trajes. The Trajes were completed and shipped back to America in late April.
Culturally relevant music education and tutoring add up to better grades
From the beginning, the educators responsible for this project saw the value of a tutor. While the students were less than happy, initially, about being required to attend tutoring and a few stopped coming due to the requirements, many of those students returned and participated in the tutoring and watched their grades improve – a win for everyone involved.
Project educators also reported on how they could improve on this project for the next school year. Though they noted how enthusiastic parents were about tutoring, they couldn’t help but acknowledge how adverse the students were to it. They discussed ways to better sell that idea to students, so that this program and others patterned after it would find a lot more success. There were also important considerations that could be fine tuned in the future, such as streamlining the auditions, assessment of initial abilities and tutoring placement procedures.
Anecdotally, Daniel Dong reported, one of the biggest challenges was procuring the Trajes, which took about six months to obtain. Because they were authentically handmade in Mexico, however, the time was worth the wait.
All in all, the MCYO has been successful with their approach to using music education and tutoring to improve student success and creativity. They are on track to meet and exceed their proposed goal “to acquire mariachi outfits and musical instruments to help motivate students to be more engaged in their academics and to be positive role models in their community.”
What did the students have to say about their work?
MCYO members wrote about their experiences in the program and about attending the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.
Similar programs could be proposed in your other schools; take advantage of your local musical genres that impact your community the way that Mariachi music does in Tucson, Arizona, will be your real challenge.
For more information on the magic of music in academic enrichment, read on:
- Playing a musical instrument could boost brain function in kids (Digital Journal, 2014)
- Using Music in the Classroom to Inspire Creative Expression (Edutopia, 2014)
- New Evidence Links Music Education, Higher Test Scores (Pacific Standard, 2013)
Engage, Enrich, Inspire! Exceptional Projects and Scholars Funded for 2013-2014
The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation is proud to announce the 2013-2014 McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Funded Projects. We have included a project summary so you can learn a little bit more about them! Congratulations to the awardees.
Academic Enrichment Grants
ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding
Merinda Davis Lakeridge
Junior High School, Orem, UT
Getting students interested and invested in the environment is a great way for them to connect with the world on a more global scale. After all, the state of the environment affects all of us, not just students in this country. Integrating sustainable education through international understanding helps grow a students world view while teaching them lessons that will apply to their daily lives. This is what the team behind ESD (Education of Sustainable Development) at Lakeridge High School aims to do. Students and staff will have opportunities to observe, analyze, evaluate and integrate sustainable perspectives and practices into all facets of their lives. This grant will allow the team to work cross curriculum, especially with science teachers, through seminars and workshops enabling educators to incorporate the sustainability lessons into their own lesson plans, seamlessly. By the end, all participating students will have produced video documentaries, PSAs and sustainable based community service projects.
Mariachi Cascabel Youth Organization
Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School, Tucson, AZ
It’s no secret that students involved in music tend to excel in math and reading learning rhythms and decoding notes and symbols. Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School aims to take advantage of this by implementing a Mariachi program at their school. As it stands there are no programs like this anywhere close to their district, and with a primarily minority student body, a mariachi program will give many students a chance to connect with their roots and culture. One of the aims of this program is to broaden its reach within the student body. Unfortunately, the trappings of a Mariachi do not come cheap. Students are required to provide their own instruments and uniforms (called “Traje de Charro”), and while a few students may have some of the required items passed down to them, many students simply do not have access. With the help of the McCarthy Dressman foundation, this program hopes to broaden the students access to instruments and uniforms so that more students can participate in this important cultural tradition.
Teacher Development Grants
The Workshop Model: Building Students’ Self Esteem and Ability to Think Mathematically
Poudre High School, Ft. Collins, CO
The goal of The Workshop Model, implemented at Poudre High School, is to educate teachers and give them a new approach to how they teach their math curriculums. Teachers will guide students to engage in mathematics by collaborating with their peers to solve specifically designed problems and then presenting their solutions to one another in a “math expert” type role. The most important part of this model is the peer review. Teachers in the program participate in a lesson study with colleagues within and at other schools. After developing a lesson together, one teacher teaches the lesson while the other educators observe. Afterwards, the teachers reflect on the lesson to discuss what improvements should be made prior to the other teachers teaching the lesson. Workshop Model teaching engages students in conceptual learning, procedural fluency, and application, which are the three requirements of math instruction in the CCSSM (Common Core State Standards Mathematics). Teachers will be trained in creating lessons that require students to engage with mathematics daily, classroom management, questioning techniques, formative assessment tools, and reflection designed at improving future instruction.
West Elementary School, Manhattan, KS
With much higher CCSSM standards being adopted every day by school districts across the country, teachers are realizing they will need to rethink their approach to mathematics. For this reason, Project RENEW will emphasize the development of deeper content knowledge among teachers, as well as pedagogical knowledge aligned with standards based approach to content teaching. This project is being spearheaded by three rural districts in Kansas with a mind of taking it statewide. The project is a three tiered approach to rethinking mathematics education. The first target is teachers’ content knowledge and understanding of the tools that are essential to effective teaching. Second, teachers will be asked to participate in summer seminars to expand their knowledge base and will be offered teaching feedback the following year. Finally, a increased focus will be put on collaboration between districts and schools so that the more isolated teachers will have a network of other educators to reach out to and help tackle problems together. This will greatly aid teachers in rural districts who find themselves increasingly isolated.
Rebecca Guerra, New Mexico State University
Katherine Leung, The University of Texas at Austin
Digital Art Afterschool Studio: An example of a Career Oriented Curriculum
Why does this matter in real life?
One of the chief complaints you hear from students is “How can I actually apply what I’m learning to the real world?” And while there is no helping Algebra in that department, there are a myriad of other subjects that can benefit from a dose of real world interaction. This is what the Digital Art Afterschool Studio is doing. It’s taking a cue from larger real world curriculum programs, such as Career Oriented Curriculum and focusing on digital artistry and community involvement.
What is Career Oriented Curriculum and how can it benefit students?
According to District Administration, a website focused on creative solutions for school districts: “A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children’s Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.” These real world experiences are invaluable to students as they do two things:
- Reality Check Experiences like this show the students the real life application for what they are learning.
- On the Job Experience Projects like the digital after school studio create professional connections that go beyond graduation and help move our students forward professionally.
One organization with a stellar track record in this area is the National Academy Foundation (NAF). Since 1982 they have worked tirelessly with teachers and schools to create and implement career-oriented curriculum. Schools that work with the NAF will frequently require an internship with a local business before allowing the student to graduate. According to NAF:
“Over 90 percent of NAF students graduate from high school, and four out of five students continue to college or postsecondary education. Of those students, 52 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.”
How do you do it?
So how are the teachers and students at Overton High School, where the Digital Art Studio program has been in full swing for two years, applying the idea of career oriented curriculum to their specific needs?
According to their proposal “The after-school Digital Arts Studio program … enables students to build professional-level skills, as they develop their artistic portfolios. … The students will be introduced to client-based projects where they are expected to develop a working relationship with the client resulting in a marketable product.”
The program operates similar to a small graphic design studio. Taking place three times a week for two hours after school, students have the opportunity to really put work into a portfolio, and increase the possibility of scholarships and if a professional internship is tacked on, some AP credit. Projects are introduced from the needs of real world clients who the students and teachers reach out to. The projects can be anything from helping a local business create a print add to designing a website for a church event. This helps create crucial bridges between the school and the community around them, ultimately strengthening both.
This program has had to start small, accommodating only a few students at first. The principal and instructors consult with local ad agencies to create an interview process for students to simulate a job interview. The students selected work together to create a marketing campaign to alert the community to their presence and start soliciting clients. It is their hope that this model will, after a couple years, become self-sustaining.
What is the impact of a Career Oriented Curriculum?
So where are the students that have already passed through this program? Here are just a few of the success stories.
- Olivia Campbell, a second year participant, was awarded a full scholarship to attend University of Tennessee’s summer program for her Digital Art exhibited in the West Tennessee Regional Art competition last winter.
- Darion Beasley, King Hobson, and Maurico Farmer (all second year participants) were selected as three of the thirty-three students chosen to be represented in the Frist’s Museum’s exhibition Tennessee’s Top Young Artists.
- This year’s West Tennessee Regional Art Competition just released their awards and participants currently in the program won Best Graphic Design work, Best Photographic work, and placed in several other categories.
- One of the program’s participants, Cesar Pita, was just offered a $66,000 scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, one of the finest art colleges.
And these are just a few stories of success as this program continues to grow.
It’s clear from the work that NAF does and how Overton High School applies it to their own program that career-oriented curriculum puts students at a huge advantage over their peers that do not participate. By giving students an education grounded in reality, rather than existing in the abstract on the white board, we strengthen their chances of succeeding in the real world. Forging professional connections early on only increases the chance of future employment and education. By also giving students a personal stake in how their work is perceived by the community at large we give them the opportunity to push themselves to create something they can be proud of.
Learn More with these Related Links
- Career and Technical Education: Research
- Linking Learning to Life
- Career-Oriented Curriculum Delivers Critical Skills
- Proof is in: Career-oriented education works