Two classes of 60 students can only mean even more ideas. After spending most of first semester honing their oral history skills and exploring the values that have set the foundation for the class, these students are ready to set out on their own to explore our school community through the lens of stories. If you have a story you’d like to share or an issue you think they should highlight, let us know using the contact link above!
You probably have noticed that VOW has been pretty quiet so far this school year. Maybe you've missed our weekly newsletter in your inbox or seeing our students in action on Twitter. We've missed you too, but don't worry, our silence doesn't mean we haven't been here hard at work. In fact, our silence means we have been working harder than ever.
While Voice of Witness is in its third year as a class here at Stagg, once again VOW is setting a new precedent with a record enrollment of two section of 60 students--yes, that means we have 120 seniors that chose a project-based learning experience with empathy as its core--how cool is that?
As teachers sitting down to plan for the class over the summer we felt a huge weight of responsibility to these students. VOW is no longer a new and unknown variable at Stagg; thanks to the work and dedication of the class of 2016 and 2017, it has earned a reputation of being enlightening, challenging and ultimately transformative. Those are weighty descriptors, but perhaps the heaviest expectations came from within ourselves. After so many conversations about what we were going to do next, we decided to go back to where and why we started in the first place. At the heart of it all, we wanted to make a change, not just for the 60 or 120 students in our classroom, but for our school, our school community and maybe beyond. Heading into our third year we knew we had witnessed the transformation of our students, but we weren't sure how much further that change had really spread. So, we turned to someone we had to come to rely on in moments of doubt like these, our friend, Cliff Mayotte, the education program director at the Voice of Witness nonprofit organization in San Francisco, the organization our class is named after.
Cliff shared that, coincidentally enough, the questions we were asking ourselves about the direction of our VOW class were the same questions the Voice of Witness organization had been asking themselves that summer. They were an organization that had published several oral history collections focused on various human rights issues; from amplifying the voices of those displaced by Chicago Public Housing changes to the voices of those living under occupation in Palestine, Voice of Witness had accomplished so much and yet they too were asking how they could do more to directly impact their narrators and the communities they served. With Cliff's guidance we realized that as teachers we needed to go back to the basics, to remember why this class was started and to focus intensely on the skills of oral history and empathy that form the foundation on which change is built.
And so this school year we spent most of first semester with our 120 students doing just that--we spent weeks interrogating the core values of our class, making sure we not only knew what empathy was in theory, but what it looked like in practice. We also spent a significant amount of class time working slowly and intensely on the skills needed to conduct and produce a high quality oral history interview. Our students practiced and practiced and practiced again interview skills before going out and conducting their first interviews. We spent more time walking through the transcription and editing process than ever before with each student submitting draft after draft of one interview. At times it felt tedious and I'm sure even boring, but what we have now is a group of oral historians more than ready to take their skills to the community to explore issues, amplify voices and create real change.
One of the first lessons we cover when we teach interviewing skills is how to embrace silence. Silences don't always have to feel like an awkward void and they don't always mean that nothing is happening--sometimes silences are needed to slow down, to stop, to think, to regroup and refocus. Sometimes in the silences we find our foundation and our direction. We know we've been silent for awhile, but we hope you're still with us, listening, ready to see where we go from here.
Thanks to the hard work of our students last year and the amazing response from our school community to 111th and Roberts, we are lucky enough to keep Voice of Witness class going for another year! These passionate and talented seniors hope to build off of the momentum and movement towards a more empathetic school community that last year's class started, but are excited to add their own unique twists and projects. While the core values of VoW that focus on creating a movement of outrospection and empathy through the vehicle of oral history remain the same, what this class will create to promote these values is something totally new. Unlike last year, we won't have one final product of a book as our main focus and instead get to tap into the array of talent and interests of our students to come up with several different projects and ways to share stories that will continue to honor the stories shared in 111th & Roberts while adding all new voices and stories to mix as well. Some ideas that are brewing right now involve utilizing GPS mapping software to create a digital story map of our community, creating a play based on the oral history stories shared, and even hosting school and community-wide events that help create forums for students, teachers and community members to come together and learn more about each other. To keep up with this exciting new class and follow all their projects throughout the year, sign up for our weekly student-written newsletter here.
The documentary, Voices of Stagg, is here!
If you have been following our website you know that Stagg VOW has been lucky enough to welcome Kenneth Erdey into our classroom and school community to document the amazing work and inspiring stories of our students. After filming our students for over a year, KRE Films is proud to share the full-length documentary, Voices of Stagg, with the Stagg community! Check out the newest trailer below and contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the documentary premiere on Tuesday, August 2nd at Stagg High School.