Kicking off a new model for curriculum-linked community engagement in the Middle School.
In 10 structured rotations under the guidance of their advisors, 6th and 7th graders speed-dated their way towards a match—not to each other, of course. Rather, their meet-’n-greet gatherings were with critical social justice topics including hunger, homelessness, environmental sustainability, and gender equality.
This year, the Middle School is unveiling a powerful new framework for how 6th, 7th, and 8th grades approach service and connections to our home city.
Prior to heading off campus for week-long service work, 6th and 7th grade students have a lot of learning to do. After they are matched with their first or second choices from the 10 rotations mentioned above, they’ll work in teams of 12 to 16 students to learn as much as they can—not only about the topics, but also about the people impacted.
“We are starting from a place of listening for and understanding stories, building relationships, and taking the lead from experts who work in these fields every day,” said director of community engagement and experiential learning Catherine Pearson. “We want to empower our students to action rather than simply sending them off for a one-off task.”
This significant evolution to the community engagement program has allowed for clear connections to Middle School curriculum. Eighth graders in particular will find that their curriculum informs their social action just as much as that engagement informs their curricular work. As readers learned last week
, the 8th grade history curriculum centers around the study of six constitutional issues. Now, 8th grade students will engage in learning opportunities and direct action within their chosen track; students researching within the abortion track will engage with visiting speakers here on campus around access to healthcare and inequities within the healthcare system two months prior to traveling off campus for service projects. Those studying hate speech will study the power of words as manifest in bullying behavior and elsewhere. The affirmative action track will study equity in education and the various models in existence here in Washington, DC. And so on for the remaining tracks: immigration, gun control, and criminal justice.
The additional learning, guided by Middle School teachers and leadership team members, will deepen students’ understanding of the issues they are already tackling in the classroom and on Capitol Hill. Unique to 8th graders will also be the new capstone project, which is designed to give our most senior middle grade level a chance to educate the 6th and 7th graders. The younger students will have the opportunity to go through two year-long rotations before their own capstone projects as 8th graders.
“Advocacy and activism are built into the framework of the new community engagement model, particularly in the capstone,” Catherine explained. Just as a panel of High School leaders came down to inspire future advocacy
, our 8th graders will be able to close out their Middle School careers by inspiring others to action.
We are grateful to the leadership of our director, Catherine Pearson, and our program assistant, Leigh Tait, in the department of community engagement and experiential learning. Not unlike its older sibling—the wildly popular summer Policy and Advocacy Institute
—this Middle School program will deliver on our mission’s promises to foster concern for others and teach students to engage as just, moral, and ethical citizens.