The Importance of Having a Conversation
“But do you get to build robots?”
And I hesitated with my answer, because I knew it would disappoint him. I wish I could have said a resounding “Yes!” but unfortunately the program we were talking about, a computer coding class, didn’t include that. While I wished I could tell him otherwise, all I could say for the moment was “No….. but I’ll do my best to find you something that does.”
Students have a wealth of opinions, reflections, and subtle hopes; these workaday conversations have given me insight that my formal education could not. But despite all of these little data points and opportunities to help, one thing I have learned is that students have very few chances to give direct input on what is going on around them. No standard mechanism exists for "customer" feedback and input on decision making.
Because of this, one of my goals includes collaborating with teachers and taking the time to ask the students themselves what kind of after school programs would be most interesting to them. Working with teachers, we have created surveys for the students to take - surveys that will help inform us about what kind of activities students are interested in most.
The importance of this work is highlighted in both my work as a community organizer, as well as in the afterschool programs themselves.
First, if the main focus of my job is to truly be about connecting students to more OST opportunities, I want to make sure that the students are happy and engaged about the placements I find for them. My work should not just be increasing participation numbers at random. It’s crucial that theses connections actually have meaning to a student and that student’s development.
Second, I can use the information gained from students to approach programs and help suggest the type of offerings that will attract more students. My work could be used to give programs real data from those who are not attending, which could then be used to help increase those connections.
Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that it may be difficult to find the time to do these surveys. Teachers already face very challenging time constraints due to a jam-packed curriculum, professional development days, and testing requirements - which limit the time teachers have for these kind of projects. Already I’ve had to reschedule planned surveys due to assessments that have popped up.
Luckily though, the teachers I have been working with are quite creative. They have found multiple ways to have these surveys both help inform me, while also serving as curriculum related work. One teacher equipped her students to be social scientists who would “collect data that would be used to help the city think about afterschool education.” Another teacher is planning on tying the surveys into a math lesson which will teach the students about rations, complete with real life examples of why it is important to simplify fractions.
There are ways that we can start getting creative with curriculum in direct support of teachers and their students - so that these interventions won’t just help the students learn in school, but help enhance their lives in general. And I believe having conversations with students, conducting these surveys, and listening to their input are a great way to start that process.