One World Goes to Summer School

Over 230 students across Washington, DC are experiencing a learning lift rather than a summer slide because of a partnership between One World Education and Higher Achievement, a highly regarded, out-of-school time provider. These 7th- and 8th-grade students are using the One World Program at the seven Higher Achievement Summer Academy centers to write argumentative essays about social justice issues they care about.

As a former teacher, I know the mindless look of students returning to school after having spent their summers playing video games and watching TV. Research shows that students can lose up to two months of learning over the summer if they are not engaged in stimulating activities. I was eager to see whether having the chance to write about topics of their own choosing would be enough to overcome summer doldrums, so I visited a few classrooms to see the program in action. Three days into using the curriculum, I saw students excited about their topics, making connections to issues they face in their communities, and enjoying having their ideas heard.

At the first center I visited, when students were asked what it meant to argue, two boys answered by acting it out and silently raising their fists. Two days later, these same two boys were deeply engaged in making claims and counterclaims as they connected what they knew from life in their communities to a series of practice questions.

Sparking critical thinking

Across town, students were reading and reflecting upon an exemplar essay written by another student about police brutality before choosing their own topics. They debated the effectiveness of the exemplar’s hook: “Why are police officers killing and being mean to black people in our communities?” One student argued that the question was too simple, while the teacher pointed out that since it prompted strong opinions from the students in response, the hook automatically had some merit.

Down the hall in another class, a student explained that he had chosen to research and write about immigration because, "My mom watches the news, and I hear about it and want to know about it.” Students were motivated to learn as much as possible and grapple with their subject matter in depth, something that may not have occurred if they weren’t allowed to choose their own topics.

Published and heard

One student was beaming when he heard that we would be selecting student essays from the Summer Academy for publication. He asked me how he could get his essay published on our website, expressing that, “My brother was published for what he wrote last year in school, and I want my essay to get published too so people read what I have to say.”

His teacher, Virginia Parks, told us that having students’ work showcased on YouTube helped with her instruction. She shared that after showing her students the Student Ambassador video, they “were able to make the connection that they could win an award...and seeing people their age on the YouTube videos sounding knowledgeable about their topics motivated them.”

Visiting the Summer Academy centers reminded me of just how powerful a strong curriculum can be in the classroom. I am looking forward to returning to these centers at the end of the program, celebrating the students’ hard work, and reading their essays. There’s one boy in particular whom I want to revisit. He was staring out into space for the first five minutes of class until his teacher started a debate with him about who was the greatest basketball player of all time. The claims and counterclaims went flying. I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to say in his argumentative reflection.

To learn more about the effects of summer slide and how to prevent it:

To learn more about how students use the One World Program during the school year:

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