by Jacob Bader
Teacher, Santiago Christian School, Dominican Republic
Some adults see the youth today and are frustrated by all the problems they cause, and often fail to see the potential that teenagers have. As a high school teacher, I sometimes compare my students to nuclear energy; they can either explode, causing mass destruction, or be directed and harnessed for amazing good. I have seen how Project Based Learning can help with harnessing these amazing sources of energy and how it can help to prepare the youth of today to take the lead as world-changing citizens.
I teach at Santiago Christian School, a school for the wealthy elite in the second largest city in the Dominican Republic. Recently the Dominican Republic was in the world news once again for another corruption scandal, and according to Transparency International there is a very high level of perceived corruption in the country. My school believes that we are shaping the lives of those who will shape the nation. We realize that many of our students will grow up to be powerful and influential leaders, and we hope that we can teach them to use this power and influence to help others and make this country a better, less corrupt one. So as a teacher, how could I possibly teach my students to do this and find a way to grade them on it?
Students Making a Difference
Many years ago, I began to develop a project that would challenge my students to learn firsthand about the injustices going on in the community in which we live. It is easy to be shocked and moved by a news story or article, but when you hear a firsthand account of someone’s personal suffering, it makes the problem come alive and puts a face to it. After doing the project for a few years, I realized that it was not enough just to learn about the problems, I had to challenge my students to do something about them to make a difference.
Imagine yourself as a high school senior and at the start of class you are told that your project for the year will be to stop police corruption or child abuse (or some other social injustice)—but don’t worry, you will have three other students to help you out. You would probably think, “yeah right, like we can make a difference.” This, of course, is what some of my students undoubtedly feel when I assign them their projects. Most people think that it is the government or someone else’s responsibility to change the world and the task seems impossible. It is true the one (or even three) drops in a bucket might not seem like much, but every drop counts, and if everyone does their part, perhaps the bucket will fill rather quickly.
Still, a project like this can be very overwhelming (as most projects can be); fortunately, a few years ago I learned some very helpful ways to break the project up into different parts and make it more manageable for my students. It has really helped to give them different job responsibilities, use a task list, and have checkpoints along the way, and doing this makes the classroom experience more closely reflect the working professional world. (I am very thankful for the guidance from the webinars I found on Buck Institute’s website.)
Projects to Address Injustices
The project that I have the seniors do at our school is one that addresses injustices and how to help deal with those problems. The first semester the students have to research and interview people that have experienced specific injustice in our community (or work with those that have) and come up with a plan and a way to help those who are hurting (and suffering from these injustices) and raise awareness. The second semester they have to put that plan into action by running some kind of online campaign to raise awareness and organizing an event as well (to either help the people or raise awareness).
Over the years my students have done some amazing things, such as help students in a public school speak out against a teacher who was abusing students, raise money to provide therapy for kids with special needs, help poor Haitian immigrants feel welcomed and valued by having meals with them, help poor communities get trash cans, and many others. Every year I am amazed by the things that they do, and through the process, I believe that they learn we can all make a difference and make the world a better place.
Below are some of the videos that my students have made. If you have any questions please let me know.