Project TEACH is a six week long summer program located at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The program works with 25 high school students from Boston Public Schools to provide academic enrichment and workforce development opportunities and enrichment.
Student choice is exhibited by having students choosing the topic of a research paper.
More options are better in this program because of the vastness of science, as well as the age group that participates in the program.
Students make choices every day, it is important that they are aware of those choices.
Students should understand that all choices have consequences, but it is important to take ownership of the decisions that they make.
Without incorporating student feedback, students would be less invested in the program.
Q: Does your program utilize student choice in any aspect of the program day? If so, what are the structures in place for how students choose?
A: Predominantly, student choice comes into practice through the research paper that students are required to do. The students chose the topic. It is not thematic; it is just whatever the student wants to research. The students will fill out a small survey to let us know their top three topics of choice, and then we select which of the three topics they will do research on.
In addition, during the seminars, students get to choose what side of the debate they are on. For instance last summer we talked about climate change, so there were six different perspectives on climate change. Students chose which perspective they felt more aligned with.
Students also get to choose their schedules to an extent. In some departments you can work in the morning or the afternoon, and we will negotiate that with their supervisor in order to provide them with some autonomy.
Q: Do you find that students respond better to a few options, or many options?
A: For research, I don’t know if fewer options would work as well because then we would get a lot of the same papers. The goal is to have students see the vastness of science. You can research almost anything. Examples of minimal choice would be on a field trip, asking do you guys want to have lunch now or later. But I like giving them more choices because I think it helps them take ownership of their work. They are young adults, they can figure it out.
I am running the program, but this is their program too. If the students don’t like something, they need to say they it, but then also present some solutions. If a student does not write their paper, there are consequences to that choice. If they decide not to go to work, there are consequences to that choice. There are choices in everything you do, so choose wisely. But also be okay with your choice. If a student chooses not to write their paper, they should take ownership of that decision, but also understand they may be penalized for not writing the paper.
Q: Do you think this approach works well because of the age group you are working with?
A: Definitely. I’ve worked with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and you can’t give them that level of autonomy; they would create chaos. But with young adults they appreciate it. I want them to know that first and foremost I trust them. They may not hear that from other adults. Without trust, I can’t run the program. I think that the explicit trust is why the program runs well.
I am also very explicit about emphasizing that you can make your choices, but your choices affect other people. I think the responsibility they feel, that they know I trust them, and that I let them go out into the Brigham world causes them to take ownership of their actions. I’m not going to treat them like kids because they’re not kids, they’re a young adults. Part of it is the language used, not only by me but by the other interns that work with me. I try to be very mindful of the language that I use with them, such as making sure that we don’t refer to the students as “kids.” I make sure I treat them with respect. We also tell them that they are a part-time employee and that there is a level of excellence that we expect of everyone every single day.
Q: In what instance has student choice made your program better?
A: As an educator, I cannot thrive unless I can brainstorm new solutions with the students. I think sometimes the solution comes from them. I try not to work top down as much as I can. I don’t I have all the answers. Without choice, I don’t know if they would have as much benefit or investment in the program. In regards to the research paper, without choice I don’t think they would write it, and the quality of the papers would not be as high as it is. The students being invested and wanting to do well is what makes the program successful.
Project TEACH is a 6 week summer program for 25 rising sophomores who attend Boston Public Schools. The program currently reaches five of Boston Public Schools’ high schools and also uses a feeder program that is a part of the larger youth program. The program is split into two portions, half of it is academic enrichment and then the other half is workforce development. Mondays are reserved for field trips. Tuesday is focuses on research and a seminar, and the other days the students spend time working onsite.