Implementing Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in my AmeriCorp Placement

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Dear readers,

I wrote this recently for my AmeriCorp placement (artwork from Mohammad Bin Lamin) about educating children of war:

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The IRC in Atlanta works to promote the growth and success of refugees in school through the Youth Futures after school program.  In its work in Clarkston High School, the Youth Futures program provides refugee teenagers in 9th-12th grade year round after school activities that students can participate in to improve their educations.  In the context of the after school program, the Youth Futures staff offers one on one tutoring to students to help them with homework, college and scholarship applications, career exploration, and life skills.  Recently, the Youth Futures program has been expanding these efforts towards working on ways to give students the tools required to identify and achieve their future dreams.

Many refugee students that come to the United States dream of a better future for themselves and their families.  However, in realizing these dreams they often face immense challenges associated with having come from war torn regions, facing persecution, and spending years in refugee camps without access to quality educational resources.  Furthermore, for refugee youth limited English ability often hinders a student’s ability to achieve in and beyond the classroom.  Realizing their dreams takes planning, careful consideration of the construction of a path to a particular dream, and perseverance.

The Youth Futures program has recently begun a writing enrichment program to encourage the students to dream big and work to evolve pragmatic plans to achieve these dreams.  In doing so, the aim of the program is to promote the development of English skills in writing in ways that are not accessible to them in the traditional classroom.  Often times, refugee youth may be years behind in English language development from their age-related American peer group.  These deficits lead to low graduate rates.  Thus, additional assistance is needed to accelerate the English learning process.

Two distinct approaches are currently being employed to offer such English assistance.  First, a pedagogical tool known as a dialog journal is being used to enhance creative and spontaneous English writing abilities in students.  The dialog journaling approach pairs a student with an English speaker and the two exchange a written dialog.  In doing so, the student assimilates grammatical rules from an experienced English speaker, is stimulated to write creatively and spontaneously, and discusses topics of interest.  In the context of expressing future dreams, the dialog journaling approach provides a student with the mentorship in both English and in life planning.  Interestingly, the dialog journaling approach also offers a method to adapt the activities in the Youth Futures program to benefit the students’ achievement of their dreams.  Through our work so far with the dialog journal approach we have learned that many students wish to enter careers in science and medicine, a significant number of students directly express their desire to improve their English, most students wish to give back to their families and greater community, and in certain cases wish to work in the arts.  We have also discovered that some students have unique aspirations such as the dream to enter into Christian ministry to help provide for the greater community.  Indeed, the IRC Youth Futures program is learning about dreams that may be masked by the dynamics of ordinary day to day life.  We aspire to strengthen the mentorship relationship between Youth Futures staff and students to promote steady growth and inner strength in the students.  Interestingly, Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” inspired the dialog journal.

It is required reading in Harvard Divinity, not Harvard Graduate School of Education:

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A second approach to offer English development assistance derives from the recognition that Youth Futures students in their senior year will need to write extensively to colleges and other agencies for entrance and scholarships.  Attending college for refugee students often times requires the acquisition of outside sources of funding for costs associated with tuition, room and board, books, and living expenses due to the challenging financial situations that refugees often find themselves in after entering the United States.  The great need for such support engenders a need for strong persuasive English writing skills in refugee youth as the students must make their needs known in well composed English writing.  While their needs for education are great, unfortunately, a student may often not possess the necessary English skills to write a persuasive college application or scholarship essay.  It is these skills that we specifically aim to improve with a targeted persuasive writing improvement program.  Still in its infancy, the program will introduce students to the concept of multiple draft writing and editing of persuasive essays introducing students to language associated with the challenging tasks of producing competitive writing for what are often extremely competitive college admission and scholarship contests.  To this end, we aim to substantially improve college admission rates and scholarship acquisition in Youth Futures participants.

Together with offering written English assistance, the Youth Futures program is offering students science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) enrichment in the after school program to grant students learning opportunities that are beyond the scope of traditional classroom learning initiatives.  In so doing, the program seeks to offer students concrete examples of the possibilities available in STEM fields potentially revealing new opportunities to dream about the future.  Since a majority of students in the dialog journaling activity have expressed desires to enter into science and medicine, these enrichment activities offer the students chances to develop their abilities in these areas.  Work with STEM enrichment spans a broad range of topics to pique the interest of as many students as possible.  For example, the Georgia State BioBus program, DeKalb county Department of Watershed Management Adopt-A-Stream and Rivers Alive program, and a series of neuroscience and cognitive science enrichment activities have all been adapted to after school use with Clarkston High School refugee students.  A future direction of the dialog journaling approach may be to ask students to write written impressions of STEM activities, thereby cultivating in the students the ability to analyze scientific topics in writing.

All together, mapping a path to future dreams of students is the first step towards offering students a better life.  English and science enrichment can supplement and complement what is offered in the Clarkston High School classroom and present student an extended curriculum that expands what is offered in traditional pedagogical settings.  Together with the homework help and tutoring that has been the mainstay of the after school program so far, these enrichment activities may help improve college admission rates, scholarship granting rates, foster a clearer sense of what lies in the future, and encourage “realistic” dreaming in the refugee student population.  We hope to continue pedagogical innovation in the Youth Futures after school program to continue to improve the quality of the students’ after school experience.

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What do you think?

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About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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