These days, public schools are facing great disparities in funding, and teachers and students continue to struggle with high-stakes testing. In some places, teachers face these realities with the awareness that their salaries could be reduced or eliminated. It is complex and deeply challenging.
In the midst of all of this, however, there is a story of educational success that you need to know. In fact, the nation needs to know this story, because it could change the ways we design curriculum, evaluate student learning, and empower our students to affect change in their own communities.
This has all taken place in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Susan Santone is the Founder and Executive Director of Creative Change Educational Solutions. She and her excellent team of fellow consultants work with educators in public schools. They help teachers and administrators restructure their curriculum so that students gain academic mastery while they learn about human needs on local and global levels.
On their website, Susan Santone addresses an educational dilemma in this way:
“What do you do if you’re a teacher, and everything you’re passionate about is largely absent from the curriculum?
“This is the dilemma I faced more than 20 years ago when I was teaching in the public schools. I was immersing myself in learning about global issues such as hunger and human rights, and desperately searching for a way to bring these issues into education. I envisioned classrooms as places where students learned to solve the problems affecting their futures and communities. To bring this about, I founded Creative Change in 2002 built on the values of equity, democratic education, sustainability, and research-based practices. Since then, our mission has been to help educators with curriculum transformation for better schools, more impassioned teachers, and fully engaged students.”
So let’s hear the success stories from Ypsilanti Public Schools in her own words. Susan Santone recently gave a Tedx talk about them:
In her Tedx talk, Susan Santone describes the ways that Creative Change Educational Solutions helped teachers redesign an ancient civilizations course for middle school students. “What could be less relevant to a seventh grader than the aqueducts of Rome?” she asks.
To transform their learning, teachers turned stories of the past into lessons about the future of Ypsilanti. Along with their students, they pondered which conditions and practices of the ancient past led to the rise and fall of civilizations.
While learning this material, students turned their attention to local and global questions of sustainability, and as a culminating event for the class, students organized their own Community Sustainability Summit which was attended by the mayor of Ypsilanti, township supervisors, and leaders from public health and public safety. Students learned academic material and created change in their own communities. The academic scores on their pre- and post-test rose by 40%.
Susan Santone says that their second project had even more remarkable results. She and her team helped teachers redesign their U.S. History course so that students could delve into the studies of institutional discrimination, racism, and the struggle for equality. Students began to wonder why Ypsilanti’s population is 30% African-American, but the makeup of Ypsilanti Public Schools is 70% African-American. This opened up opportunities for students and teachers to analyze segregation, white flight, and the U.S. policies of the past and present which have enabled these trends.
The academic results were astounding. Scores of a rigorous pre- and post-test rose by 95%. Students became engaged in their studies, and they began to create connections between their curriculum, opportunities for change, and their own leadership.
It is clear that Creative Change Educational Solutions has much to teach us.