Reflections on Week One of Project: Citizen

This year marks the fourth year that I've been teaching a summer writing course for high school students at Fairfield University called Project: Citizen.  This course focuses on the art of constructing an argument about a social justice issue and to write about it in as many different genres as possible.  It is part of The Connecticut Writing Project's young adult literacy labs (what director Bryan Ripley-Crandall calls YALLs).

Every year has been interesting because the world has become a much more politically charged place in the last four years, but this year and last year have really been interesting because we've managed to create a social experiment through this course.  Connecticut is one of the most inequitable states for education, we have a zip-code apartheid (another Crandall-ism) where schools within 2 miles of each other are drastically different in terms of resources.  So with last year and this year, in order to be true citizens of the world, we've really diversified our scholars.

This year we have about 40% of students from wealthy suburbia, 40% of students from urban schools (where I teach), and 20% of the students are from Lakota Nation, a Native American tribe from South Dakota.

Last year it took a while for the communities to break from their shells and start to mingle.  So this year we focused on more team building in the beginning and yet here we are at the end of week one and only today (Friday) did they really start to open up a little more with each other and the instructors.

We also have two students from the urban population who consistently feel "below" and "unworthy of being in the same space as these white kids."  And so they shut down.

It's even more severe with the Lakota students - they feel even below the urban students.

So how do we prevail?  We continue to mix up the communities.  Yesterday we had a breakthrough when the two reluctant urban students worked in a small writing group with the Lakota students and they wrote together.  They understood each other.  They broke down some walls - the walls we all put up in defensiveness.    

I've been in awe watching all the identities clash and coincide.  We're seeing a real slice of American Pie in this course.  We're getting a glimpse into their future outside the classroom - in the real world - where people of color are constantly behind their white counterparts. It's been an interesting first week because the students are so passionate and have so much to say that it's amazing how some of them can't see their own natural-born talent.