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Last year, our city was going through a huge school consolidation. It was all the papers were talking about and every breaking news story seemed to have something to do with the consolidation. However, though I saw the news stories and heard about it, I never really understood fully what all was going on. People would tell me that I didn't have to worry about anything since the consolidation wouldn't affect private schools. Well, in my 11th grade English class, my English teacher made a teaching decision that has impacted the way I look at things from now on. She knew that our school wouldn't be affected by the consolidation, but she told us that we were going to create PSA projects that were either pro or con for the consolidation. We were to study both sides of the argument and pay close attention to what the news was saying and the current situations and new ideas. We then made persuasive PSA iMovie commercials that stated facts and basically showcased everything that we had learned about. We then put all of our announcements online and we all watched each other’s movies to see what angle they had come from to argue for or against the consolidation. This project was definitely something we don't do every day, but I'm really glad we did it. It really got me more involved in my community and for once, I actually understood everything that the newspaper was talking about. I grew a strong interest in the subject and even when the project was over, I still kept up with everything having to do with the consolidation. It was a very interesting project that showed me that even if you aren't necessarily affected by something, doesn't mean you shouldn't learn as much as you can and be informed about what is going on in your community. Later on, we even had a writer from the newspaper come talk to us about the consolidation, and she applauded us for being so proactive in learning about the situation. She said that most private schools would have just not cared about it, but said that our school was truly special for getting involved and actually caring. We got to ask her questions and later got to watch a movie on the problems of America's education. The movie was truly moving, and my whole grade was very intrigued. We had no idea all this was going on. Sometimes, when you're in a private school, you can kind of feel like you're in your own private bubble and it's easy to just disregard everything that is happening around you. But because of this project, I really believe that it is important for students to go out and get involved and have an opinion on the issues of today.
I am a 6th grade English teacher, and each February I ask my students to write a personal essay modeled after National Public Radio's "This I Believe" segment. Students are asked to think of and write about a memorable experience that demonstrates something that they have come to believe about life. This assignment pushes students to not only recall a moment or experience, but also asks them to make meaning from that experience. This is very challenging for them, and I often get responses similar to: "I don't know what I believe" or "I haven't had anything interesting happen to me." The leap that they must make is that often what we come to believe about life comes not only from the life-changing experiences that we have, but also from the day to day interactions and routines in which we engage. To help students identify a situation or experience in which to anchor their essay, I lead them in various brainstorming exercises which help them to explore their interests, their goals, their histories, and their values. Eventually, everyone has something to say and a story to tell. Their initial sentiment is that they are too young to have had enough life experience to shape their beliefs, but they soon discover that this is not the case. I have found that girls are eager to share their essays not only with their peers but also with their families and some even want to submit their work for possible publication on NPR's "This I Believe" website. This assignment pushes 6th graders to think beyond the present and the concrete and make abstract meaning out of their past experience. They exceed my expectations every time!
In my Documentary Writing elective course, students did a number of assignments (ranging from a personal profile to a longer research paper) that required them to rely on interviews with adults, both employees of the school and alumnae. The course is an English elective offered to juniors and seniors. The interviewing process was especially gratifying and revelatory to students, particularly when interviewing older alumnae. We spent early parts of the course exploring what the students think of as characteristic or distinctive about [school name]’s curriculum, traditions, and even physical space. Using these self-identified characteristics of the school, students then interviewed alumnae to learn about what the school was like when these alumnae were students. Although students had to talk with older strangers, they had a common bond of the school to draw upon for their questioning, and so the discussions quickly became easy and comfortable for the girls. The interviews created a bridge between the generations which allowed the girls to explore differences in the past of the school with which they are so familiar and similarities between themselves and strangers with whom they might not think they have anything in common.

From a body of several interviews, students developed a research writing project that explored one aspect of [school name] that has changed over the generations. Final projects ranged from different attitudes toward smoking to the differences in the chapel program over the years.
In English, we had to do a project called Project 12. We chose three different family members who were twelve in three different decades. We researched those decades, and interviewed our family members. Once we had done that, we used Photostory to create a slide show. We were able to add narration and music to our slide show. It was really interesting to learn about my family and the past. I now know things I hadn’t known about my great-grandpa, grandpa, and grandma. I was in sixth grade when I did this project and I loved it, and I think future students would too.