Genesee Community Charter School, Rochester, NY
The year began with a three-hour walking tour of our city, looking for evidence of bridges and barriers. Bridges, things that serve to unite us, included amazing murals, new small businesses, bike lanes, community gardens, and a vibrant public market. Barriers, things that drive a wedge between us or serve to isolate certain members of our community, were equally plentiful. Students recognized homelessness, trash-strewn lots, poverty, and boarded up homes as barriers during their walk. Back in the classroom, teachers Alexis Stubbe and Chris Dolgos led a debrief about where students saw revitalization - and for whom - and had the students reflect on their perceptions of the community and the bridges and barriers in their own lives.
Mastery of Content & Skills
Sixth graders at Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS) focus on a year-long topic that has real-world value to our students and to their city. Topics are taught through learning expeditions, where science, social studies, the arts, and ELA are fully integrated; math is integrated when it is meaningful and purposeful. These expeditions are built around case studies that scaffold skills, content, and character in service to our final product.
To help students understand the complexities of the urban “renaissance” taking place in Rochester, Chris and Alexis designed a focus around inquiry that highlighted inequalities in the existing community and collaboration to promote inclusive models of change that can lead to a better world for all. Through their work in this year-long Better World Project, 6th graders used academic content, research, communication skills, and in-depth fieldwork to answer the project’s guiding question for themselves: Whose renaissance is it?
From examining stigmas in musical genres to exploring personal and social barriers through dance to self-portraits and clay tiles that reflect personal identity, the arts are seen as another language for exploring content. The GCCS arts team collaborated with the 6th grade teachers during the expedition planning phase to make sure arts skills and content were seamlessly woven into expedition plans. Students' attention to craftsmanship was revealed in successive drafts of their work and in the satisfaction and pride of sharing final pieces during Passage Presentations. The exploration of mural work in their city and beyond served as a touchstone for students to revisit identity and audience and reinforce the idea of service through the lens of the arts.
Shawn Dunwoody can be described as a visionary, artist, and change agent. His investment in Rochester is evident in mural work that sends messages of truth, strength, and hope. Shawn's murals are timeless and universal - they are found in neighborhoods, public and private spaces, and even along roadsides and hidden in parking lots. He immediately won the hearts of the sixth-graders with his humor, charisma, and openness. Shawn's sense of urgency to create positive change and lift up the voices of communities through art immediately engaged the students in the work.