People in your neighborhood

people-in-your-neighborhood.jpg

A problem:

Kids are alienated from their local communities. They spend their time in school, so don't know what it's like to be an adult. Much of what they understand comes filtered through the media.

Schools can be focal points for bringing together a community. They can be places where a judge shows how to judge, and a manager shows how to manage, and a welder shows how to weld, and a barista shows how to bariste, and a congresswoman shows how to congress.

Typically, however, schools don't pull community in so much as shut it out. 

We can solve this.

Our basic plan:

  1. On a regular basis, we invite in a community member willing to answer student questions about their job, their religion, their life philosophy, or just their experiences.
  2. We help students prepare questions, which they will have the responsibility of asking.
  3. We develop traditions to set the guest at ease, and help them have a wonderful time: we're advertising the school to them as much as they're advertising their lives to us!
  4. We encourage an "ask me anything" atmosphere of question-asking, but at the same time train kids to be respectful.

Our goals:

We hope to...

  • Expand possibilities — in professions, in philosophy, in religion, in life choices.
  • Limit possibilities! (If we hear a student say, "Oh, I don't want to be a dentist/lawyer/teacher after all," we'll have done real good in the world.)
  • Multiply weak ties — that is, the connections students have with people who are outside their own groups. (It's been demonstrated that students who have few weak ties have more difficulties in moving up in socio-economic status.)
  • Have a lot of fun. People are interesting! We're vectors of interest — much more so than the textbooks some schools center on.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

Our students asking meaningful questions to a guest — say, a bailiff, or a baker, or a banker, or a bartender, or a bassoonist, or a biologist, or a bishop, or a boatmaker, or a bodyguard, or a bookkeeper, or a bouncer, or a bricklayer, or a businesswoman. (Thanks to wikidot for help with that list!)

Some specific questions:

  • How do we set guests at ease? We shouldn't, for example, have the guest stand at the front of the room to be stared at. Nor should we make them begin the discussion (unless they want to). I presume we should tell them what to expect before they come, and then once they show up, help kids meet them at the door, and introduce them to a few others students in the class. Maybe we should give them a fancy "guest strawberry lemonade"! (The kids could make it. It could be delicious!)
  • At what stage can we get students to do the inviting? This is a great chance for students to practice the art of writing great e-mails (so, so hard!), and learning to work with adults. Really, the more we can train the kids to be in charge of this, the better!
  • How can we connect these visits to the rest of our curriculum? 
  • Should we create a long list of potential community members who'd be willing to stop by? Anything to make this easier would be great. We might also want to have a very regular schedule (say, every other Thursday, at 2pm) so very busy community members could plan their visit months in advance.
  • How often? Every week? Every other week?

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA