Realizing that education initiatives, no matter how forward-thinking, run little chance of succeeding without buy-in from the learners they’re intended to help, NASA invited four teams of students to its Jan. 17 Education Partnership Summit. The students, part of the NetGeneration of Youth (NGY) Cyber-journalism Program, were there not only to participate in discussions, but to gain professional experience as journalists, interviewing program participants and taking news of the event back home to their communities.
Throughout the day-long event, students used their time to work as professional journalists, interviewing keynote speakers and other summit participants about the importance of STEM education and the value of educational partnerships in readying students for success in the global workforce. Capitalizing on their affinity for technology, many students used video and digital cameras to document the event; others came armed with pen and paper, prepared to write news stories for dissemination back home.
Program organizers said having students from NGY on hand helped accomplish two main goals of the summit. For one, it gave the students an opportunity to add their input to the ongoing discussion, submitting ideas for what NASA and other organizations could do to strengthen their relationships with schools; secondly, it gave the students a chance to hone their real-world competencies and engage in a unique brand of learning–the kind that could only take place beyond the four walls of the classroom.
“It’s about one word: relevance,” said Patrick Alarcon, a science teacher at Academy of Information Technology and Engineering (AITE) in Stamford, Conn. and a mentor to a team of two student journalists from his school. “Through [the NetGeneration of Youth Learning Community] we are going to try and capitalize on this idea of partnership to take the students out of the classroom so that we can transcend the textbook to give them experience in the workplace while they are learning the material.”
By working as journalists to cover the event, Alarcon said, participating students were able to share their insights with a core group of educational decision-makers–and, perhaps more importantly, learn how to communicate what they’ve learned to their parents and friends back home.
“If you cannot communicate the information you have, then you haven’t learned anything and you are not making society better,” he said. “The whole idea is to bring meaning for what the students are doing in the classroom. Once they understand that, and they know where they are going to go with what you are teaching, it becomes so much more fun.”
Sean Zhao, a student journalist from the AITE team out of Stamford, said the value of the experience was immeasurable.
“This program taught me that I should go out and discover what I want to do in life, as opposed to simply sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher say ‘learn this’ or ‘learn that,'” he said. “I think that to be able to go out and touch the things you like to learn, as opposed to just listening to what your teachers are saying, is very important. It’s very entertaining, and you learn better that way.”
His teammate, Erronique Whyte, has participated in NGY civic activities for two years. Her experiences have convinced her that teachers can improve the quality K-12 classrooms by using technology and multimedia to engage tech-savvy learners; digital resources also could be used as a tool to help students organize and retain important information better, she said, regardless of whether they choose to go into science or math, or some other field. Whyte, for example, says she wants to become a lawyer.
“I think it’s good to have technology incorporated into the classes and the lesson plans, so that [school] can be more enjoyable for the students,” she said. “Personally, I can’t learn if I’m not interested in it.”
Zhao said he’d like to see teachers emphasize a greater depth of knowledge across all disciplines–to focus on cultivating the kinds of higher-level thinking skills that will enable students to address the problems they’ll likely encounter in the business world.
Ronnie Lowenstein, who founded NGY in 1999 with a commitment to media literacy, civic engagement, and youth expression, said the program is about empowering youth voices across America.
“NGY affiliates with youth serving organizations to cultivate youth leadership appropriate for the Digital Age,” said Lowenstein, an independent consultant and writer who specializes in educational partnership building.
NGY is the youth component of the Education Technology Think Tank, a national collaborative of business and civic and government sector representatives committed to improving educational opportunities for traditionally underserved communities.
Participating students came from four different institutions: the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, Conn.; Blake High School, part of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland; Centers for Youth Development from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Polytechnic University, also from Brooklyn.