by Jessica Lazarus
Teacher, Pembroke High School, Pembroke, MA
I stand at my desk beholding a new group of high school advanced digital art students. Semester two has begun. My advanced students will soon get to experience the rigor of the Students Rebuild Gold Standard PBL unit “Advocates for Peace” that I and fellow educators helped to develop this past summer. During the design process I soon realized how important it was for our project to be student driven.
We viewed examples of how students had made a difference in their communities helping the homeless and neighborhood families through engagement, interest in their lives and offering support. It was amazing to see what a group of middle school students had accomplished in their leadership roles. The real-world skills that students had adopted in addition to gaining self-esteem and confidence took precedence over memorizing SAT scores or producing paperwork without tangible results. Of prime importance was the students’ opportunities for growth, accountability and authentic experience for real world change.
As the topic shifted direction to focus on peace-building and conflict resolution, I began to understand that it was the student groups and leaders in each of the world regions in need of support who were our guides for process and leadership. Groups such as Search for Common Ground and CARE who look to end conflict and support social justice served as our guides to understand how peoples of different values and ideals can join together— which makes our local work seem easy in comparison.
Through facilitated discussion groups, the Buck Institute National Faculty guided us through the process of designing two applied PBL units that would serve our variety of academic areas as well as our tiered and leveled student bodies K-12. I am still incredibly impressed by the outcomes of the two units that were developed and the creativity that went into sharing insight and responsibility with the students who would undergo the PBL process within these units.
First Steps in the Journey
Back in my classroom I felt humbled to be able to provide this unit to my students. With an introduction to the tools of Illustrator and Graphic Design, I got the ball rolling. Through multiple conversations which supported my students’ curiosities and open-minded thinking, I was encouraged to see that my students were willing and enthusiastic about addressing the abstract idea of peace-building.
I began by showing my students the Students Rebuild videos pertaining to the different conflicts within Nigeria and across cultural boundaries. These ideas of conflict were clear to my students, as was the acceptance of others through shared activities. Yet, something was missing: the immediate connection to the lives of my students was not yet visible.
We spent a few days reviewing and comparing key terms pertaining to the Peacebuilding Terminology. Students then completed their Frayer Squares with a gallery walk. When asked to vocalize the similarities, differences and key points, they shared the relationships between key terms. My students who viewed themselves to be upstanding citizens were troubled by tests they took which suggested they had a predisposed bias and realized how much their view of the world changed their behavior towards others.
Next, I asked my students to analyze their town and then the nation, assessing which conflicts pertained to them and which they viewed as being of greatest importance. While the two didn’t always match up, a list was developed, from bullying in schools to terrorism and cybercrimes. While the list was long and unsettling, underlying issues of mental health, opioid overdose, the “Me Too” movement and bipartisan conflict in the government all pointed to a lack of equality. The students saw another video on high school student leadership following a student suicide which showcased examples of student action.
Our Project’s Focus
The frame for our driving question became, “How do we as student leaders support equality in our community?” Ideas included giving awareness to discrimination, bias, stigmas and associated negative behaviors through different media. Reminding my students that one of our curriculum goals was to brand a campaign, this became our vehicle for social equality as a way to bring solutions to the community.
As the driving question was planted, I asked my less vocal students to suggest which components of a branding campaign they would like to contribute. Responses included ideas of billboards, brochures, an equality walk, a peace festival, smart phone apps, gif’s for the web and a full scale video. I then gave students the option to select those topics they were most interested to explore and clarified that regardless of who they worked with, they would all be working together.
My students now continue to work through their own group dynamic as well as the challenge of new learning as they eagerly await to see their apps, videos and imagery function in real time throughout our greater school community. As the brand comes to fruition, I hope the students will take pride in their work and see how their abilities and determination can help them to make a big impact on society.