School: Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning High School
District: New York City, District 18
State: New York
Source: Jessica Kruse
As a high school teacher of English language learners (ELLs) at the Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School, one of my school goals is to teach students to be civically-engaged leaders. Because the English language learners at Kurt Hahn are mostly new to the country and ninety percent speak no English, they need direction to do this. Though they often find comfort, a new home, and new language in my class, I want to continue to provide authentic learning opportunities and build ways for them to connect the world outside of our school, to American culture and to their own neighborhood communities.
To be more intentional about involving my students in the community, I recruited students from local colleges to be writing and reading mentors. In relationship with my students, the college students not only tutored my ELLs, but they also explain the college process in America and interacted with them about American culture. To get my students out of the classroom and into the culture, I utilized local art spaces and libraries for their project work. I also arranged for each to present a published work to the community at the end of the school year. One strategy that really paid off was recruiting creative writing graduate students from Columbia University to assist my students with an eight-month narrative writing project that culminated in an anthology of short stories from each student. To get started, I contacted the director of mentoring at the university, who advertised for potential writing partners from Columbia. We then met with potential writing students to discuss the project’s goals and my expectations, and I chose two graduate students who had ESL experience and had a strong desire to volunteer once a week with my specific population from Sept-April. I collaborated with the local public library’s supervisor to meet once a month from Oct-March at the library, which gave students quiet time to write and to see our community’s available services. For the last three years, and currently, our school is still working with these partnerships!
In 2013, I partnered with an art gallery in downtown Brooklyn to find a photographer to teach my students how to take images to support their writing. We took monthly trips to the UPI art gallery. In 2014, our school received a grant to have a teaching artist from Urban Arts work with my students in our classroom weekly and, with the support of that teaching artist, I made connections with a gallery that allowed my students to have a book signing event to share their published work at the end of the school year.
One direct result of creating outside connections for my students is that they now have an interest in writing that extends beyond our school setting and even involves some family members at our publishing events. My students are able to understanding why writing matters, how to share published work, and what our community has to offer them. Most important, they are learning what it MEANS to be a part of their new community. They have forged relationships with the graduate students who shared with them that writing is essential for college and for their future careers. On the day our graduate student Elise came, I asked my students how the writing went and one said, “I love her (Elise) and she helps me to be a good writer. I want to write my story too.”
Visiting the local library and getting to know the librarians has extended my students’ reach in the community and helped them to learn about the library system. My student Peterson said, “I have never been to the library before, now I even have a card and a book I checked out. I can’t wait to come back.” On a library day, one student said, “It is so quiet, and I see so many books … it makes me want to write a book.”