Greetings from Sunflower!
Dear Friends of FSTF,
We hope this update finds you well! We are now one week into our courses, and we could not be more excited about what the rest of the summer holds. We know most of you can't make it here to check out our courses, so we want to bring the most exciting moments to you! Each week, we will be highlighting one of our partner programs and telling you a little bit about the courses being taught there. This week, we went to sit in on the classes happening at The Sunflower County Freedom Project, and we loved what we saw!
The Sunflower County Freedom Project was founded in 1998 by three former teachers. The program offers year-round enrichment programs for middle and high school students, including academics, mentoring, travel, physical education, drama, and art classes. We partnered with them because they share our belief that any student, when offered the right kinds of opportunities and guidance, can thrive in demanding courses.
This summer, two of our teaching fellows are working with high school students at the Sunflower County Freedom Project. Isaac Weitzhandler (Duke) is teaching a course on Bioethics, and Pamela Walker (Rutgers) is teaching a course on the history of black resistance in America.
Students in these courses begin each day with 15 minutes of ACT practice problems. While there is much more to post-secondary success than test scores, strong performance on the ACT can lead to great scholarship opportunities. We want to make sure our students have access to those resources when it comes time to apply to college.
Beyond traditional test prep, though, we believe that the best way to prepare students for success on the ACT and in college is to give them the tools to solve tough problems on their own. In Mr. Weitzhandler's class, students are tackling challenging biology, public health, and engineering problems, leveraging their STEM skills to answer pressing real-world questions. In the class we sat in on this week, students were discussing vaccines and immunology.
They learned the term "community immunity," and debated whether or not students should be required to receive vaccinations. Rather than supplying them with an answer, Mr. Weitzhandler challenged his students to arrive at their own conclusions, using science concepts, data, and theoretical frameworks to support their claims.
In Ms. Walker's class, students spent the morning working with primary source documents from the nineteenth century. They each read and analyzed a "Wanted" advertisement for a runaway slave, and then spent the rest of the period writing creative pieces, imagining the motives, nuances, and experiences behind each slave's escape.
"This is what historians do," Ms. Walker explained. "We work with tiny fragments of the past, and use those fragments to imagine the lives of real, complex human beings. Your job is to restore humanity to these people." Ms. Walker's students rose to the challenge, and performed their own original slave narratives for their classmates at the end of the period.
Kate Gluckman, the Executive Director of the Sunflower County Freedom Project has had the privilege of watching these two brilliant teachers at work every day. She called Isaac and Pam a "tremendous addition" to the SCFP's summer staff, and said that "their curricula in BioEthics and The Radical Black Imagination have inspired curiosity in our students and lively discussions in class."
We are excited to see where these two incredible educators take their students this summer. We will keep you posted as they continue to produce amazing, college-level work! In the meantime, we hope you will continue to follow along as we visit our other partner sites. Next week, we will tell you all about what's happening at the Meridian Freedom Project in Meridian, MS!
Emily & Andy