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Students partner with RCSD's School 17

by Aaron Cerbone - News Editor
Tue, Jan 31st 2017 11:40 pm
JUNIOR HIGH Brockport students are part of an experimental class being offered in an attempt to broaden and strengthen intercultural relationships between students at School 17 (above).
Tara Kiah/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER JUNIOR HIGH Brockport students are part of an experimental class being offered in an attempt to broaden and strengthen intercultural relationships between students at School 17 (above).

 Students enrolled in The College at Brockport's class FCE 420 Multiculturalism in the United States are going back to middle school. The 16 students enrolled in the Modern Language and Cultures class will visit 22 eighth graders at Rochester's School 17-Enrico Fermi once a week to work on a service learning project combining photography, English language arts, humanities and social science.

The unique class was created from a partnership of Donna Wilkerson-Barker and Ewelina Barski-Moskal who combined their skills to produce a class experience which serves as a rare opportunity for college and middle school students to work together and test this type of curriculum format.

While the students get to know each other over the six weeks, they will be paired up to work on a final project for the class. Brockport students will do a portion of the project before starting the class, taking pictures of things around the college and the homes that they connect with to represent some of the things that they feel  contribute to their identity. 

This will be a way for them to "break the ice" with the kids as they discuss the meanings of the pictures and explain the story they tell.

The kids will then go out through their neighborhood around the school and tell their own story through taking pictures of their own personal and cultural symbols.

This addresses the second half of the class' goals, testing the theory that students will increase their intercultural competence through service learning projects. Students aren't just taking pictures and talking about them, but rather allowing for personal growth as well as a greater understanding of the world.

"I think it will be a big reality check for how close we are to School 17 and the stark difference ... in how we live here compared to their neighborhood," Barski said.

The lessons students will learn aren't only on the syllabus; learning about structural inequalities and the differences in communities within the region, play big roles in  understanding  the  purpose of the course.

"It's hard to turn a blind eye to something when you develop relationships," Wilkerson-Barker said.

Students at School 17 face a lot of challenges throughout their schooling with poverty and low graduation rates according to Wilkerson-Barker.

School 17, which is ranked fifth from the bottom of 2,364 New York State schools according to schooldigger.com, is in the .2 percent percentile (meaning that 99.8 percent of schools in the state are performing better) and has 90.9 percent of students receiving free or discounted lunches.

Both sets of students are supposed to gain experience and perspective changes from each other. 

The School 17 students will educate Brockport students about their school and community and the Brockport students will serve as mentors, inspiring the kids to graduate and get the opportunity to go to college as well so they can learn how to be make positive influences on the world.

"You have personal goals based on the connections that you make in life," Barski said.

After building this research service learning project over two years, Wilkerson-Barker and Barski hope it will become a permanent part of the class. It has been received well in theory, and will now be tested in practice.

After the six-week class Wilkerson-Barker will administer a test to see if the class had a significant impact on the students. 

The Intercultural Development Inventory is a continuum of cultural competence ranging from denial to adaptation which will determine the effects of the experimental project for students.

For many of the students, being in a school which is 44.3 percent African American and 45.6 percent Hispanic will be a completely new experience for them. 

Instructors from both schools are excited to see what the project will bring for their students. 

For School 17 it will hopefully provide the kids with a chance to come to Brockport to present on Scholars Day and find more academic encouragement; for Brockport it will hopefully introduce students to a fuller world where they can make a difference in other's lives.