Reflections on DFS' transformative education tour of NYC

Teachers and artists-in-residence from AMP’s Detroit Future Schools program recently traveled to New York City to tour peer organizations who are using media for transformative education. The goal of the trip was to explore models of media arts-integration, participatory action research, and youth-leadership development that could be applied to our work in Detroit.

DFS 8th grade algebra teacher, Helen Lee, shares her reflections:

I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on our work and the challenges we face in Detroit, while exchanging lessons with organizers and educators in New York.

Our visits were tightly packed yet at every site, we felt a huge space open to our questions and mutual sharing.

We visited the office of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, an organization that partners high school students with community organizations to design educational tools that demystify the complicated policies that directly impact their communities.

We dropped by the Global Action Project to observe Youth Breaking Borders program – an intersection of media making, political education, and youth development.

We met with Jack Martin, associate director of Global Kids' Online Leadership Program. We learned about their process of digital media education that prepares youth to not only access and navigate the digital world, but build their own digital spaces.

To round the trip out, we sat down at CUNY with collaborators of the Public Science Project who have been merging participatory action research and community media to leverage decision-making power in political processes with those who are traditionally left out of the conversation.

On my own, I had arranged a site visit of a school that had piqued my interest. Pam Sporn, a documentary storyteller at Grito Productions welcomed Danielle Filipiak (a DFS teacher alum) and I to the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School where she has taught media production to youth. On this visit, we observed the inner-workings of the school and engaged in dialogue with almost everyone who crossed our paths – administrators, students, new teachers, founding teachers, program coordinators, and support staff. In every conversation, I found myself connecting more and more dots. I began to see the work Detroit Future Schools does within a larger web of work taking place across the country to create a paradigm shift in education.

From the many organizations we visited, I distilled some common threads that tie our work together, and lessons that can make our work stronger:

Changing our relationship to media changes our relationship to the world. Sonya, a senior at Fannie Lou, shared with me how much her participation in Fannie Lou TV, the after school media club, shaped her perspective on the imapct of media on public opinion and motivated her to attend a post-secondary institution for public broadcasting. "I realized through this process what is not shown to us in the media and the power of people who control media. By participating in FLTV the power was shifted into our hands and we could choose to present what we wanted about our community and ideas."

A student at the Buschwick Academy of Urban Planning, who worked with CUP to investigate the fad and fascination of micro-apartments in their city, told me how the project exposed him to ideas and policies he would have never thought about had the program not existed in his school. He also shared that the immersion in the research process and the opportunities to connect to a network beyond his neighborhood sparked his interest in continuing to learn about housing policies in his city.

Facilitative leadership is key. While many programs offer youth leadership development, too often we are developing youth leaders to replicate broken forms of leadership. However, in all of the programs we visited, we saw how the purpose of leadership is to build leadership in others.

At Global Kids, students learn game design as well as how to teach others how to design games, becoming curators and facilitators of knowledge. The theory of change at Global Action Project recognizes that true liberation exists when a culture of collective process exists. At this organization, which predominantly works outside schools or after school, youth co-plan and co-facilitate sessions for other youth. By providing a space for youth to authentically become integral agents of change, they are able to take on these leadership roles. Program Director Christian stated, "It's amazing what the human imagination can do when it's challenged to think of something differently."

Relevancy matters. This is only my third year of teaching but I am realizing more and more the lack of relevancy in what is learned in schools. What I really value in the organizations and schools that I visited was the emphasis on learning and action around issues that were directly connected to the community.

An educator at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Amanda, shared with me how real world learning experiences not only pushed students to lead their own learning but to also think about the big picture. At Fannie Lou, students are alternatively assessed by their portfolio on three of the core subjects instead of by the New York State Regents. Amanda told me that this structure of relevant evaluation has helped her discover what it means to teach. "Everything I am doing now is more intentional," she stated.

At Public Science Project, participants are pushed to conduct research around their community. In doing so, participants are empowered to produce new knowledge as opposed to remaining only consumers of information.

I am only beginning to wrap my mind around all of the work I was exposed to over my short trip in NYC. I am grateful to have had the experience to connect with and observe others around this work as it has reminded me that there is still more work to be done.

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