The Middle School program at Methodist Services’ main campus recently completed a very successful black history project, asking the question “What would my life look like if I walked the feet of a free African that was forced into slavery?” Youth researched the slave trade in the Americas, the Carribean, and Europe, and then delivered a full blown theatrical production showcasing what they learned.
Check out the project here. Then read below for an interview with Methodist Services’ staff members Jonnae McClain and Shav’on Smith about their project.
Q: Please describe the overall concept for the project.
A: The overall concept of the project was to celebrate Black History Month in a non-traditional way. Many of the students have been exposed to the same few famous African Americans year after year and we wanted to make this year’s observance more meaningful than just knowing answers to recycled trivia questions. We wanted to give the students a sense of pride by exposing them to more in-depth information about the history of Blacks in America.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this project? Did you incorporate youth input?
A: The project idea was based on many conversations that the students had during their free time. Their views of themselves and others were skewed by the media and other superficial venues. The students’ discourse seemed to take the freedoms that they have for granted. They seemed to be content with staying ignorant to the harsh realities of their ancestors’ lives. We thought that it was necessary to have the students research their past to understand why their future is much brighter.
Q: How did you incorporate the various talents and interests of your students in the project?
A: The PBL topic in itself was interesting to our mostly African American population. Theater as the foundation to this PBL allowed for the students to experience the performing arts, showcase their artistic talents on set designs and honing their production and managerial skills as crew members and stage directors.
Q: It sounds like the project was a big success! What did the staff and youth enjoy most about the project?
A: The culminating performance piece was the most exciting time for everyone. The students were able to showcase their hard word and transmit to the audience the feelings of the people of the time through music, poetry and dance. By seeing everything come together during the performance they each had a more intrinsic and profound understanding of the research, the chosen music, choreography and the poetry lines performed.
Q: What were the biggest challenges in the project?
A: The only required writing during the project was note-taking during research sessions. Unlike most of their school projects, the students could not rely on an essay to portray their findings. The students struggled with fashioning their research information into creative artistic visual reports.
Q: Do you have any lessons learned or advice on PBL to share with other programs?
A: It is important to make PBL as imaginative and interactive as possible so that the children will stay engaged. Student input is also important because they are more invested in the final result.
Q: Do you have advice for engaging middle school students, in particular?
A: Middle school students need to be asked questions and should be engaged in group discussions to give input on daily activities. This age group needs to be assured that they are respected as young individuals transitioning into young adulthood. The OST program can not be an extension of the regular school day. Their experience should be fun and educational at the same time. Middle school students always want to know “why” and everything that is done will be better received if it can be applied to their everyday life.