When APH students in Ms. Ali Souris’ Sociology class received a letter from Emily Karwoski, a social worker at a Partial Hospitalization Program in Beverly, they were challenged to consider the social issues present in America today. She wrote to the students,
“…Every day laws are passed and policies are approved. But sometimes the policy that is passed is like a wrench used to hammer in a nail, or a Band-Aid applied to treat a mortal wound. It seems like a full understanding of the major issues in our society is often lacking. What do you believe are the major issues in America today?”
Ms. Souris facilitated students’ learning of social issues in the United States of America by presenting them with driving questions, which led to a discussion revolving around social issues in the USA. To answer the driving questions, our students engaged in an incredibly rigorous process.
- What America do you live in?
- Is everyone’s America the same?
- How do people’s social realities differ in America?
- What are the most important social issues facing Americans?
Our students at The Academy at Penguin Hall, the only all girls college preparatory school, delved into these questions, studying relevant material and statistics from the media, including advertisements, movies, song lyrics, and social media; the class was challenged to respond and interact with the information presented. They brought up social topics including race, health, technology, and the environment.
How do we as social beings recognize, compile, analyze, and present data to understand major social issues in the US so that we increase social awareness?
In order to solve this problem statement, we asked students to share about the America that they live in. They showcased what they learned by focusing on one topic that resonated with them and created a project exploring that topic within the United States of America. With a US map as an archery target, a gallery of original photography, original music, and many other imaginative projects, students each infused their own passion and creativity into their culminating presentation.
“There are several essential skills that students must develop to become academically and socially capable individuals,” according to Ms. Souris. She believes that “the ability to communicate ideas clearly when speaking and writing and the ability to apply analytical and critical thinking skills when solving problems are paramount.” Other skills that Ms. Souris feels are key to students’ development are the ability to appreciate culture and diversity, the ability to recognize and practice civic obligations, and lastly the ability to demonstrate interpersonal skills needed to work cooperatively.
With the diversity and plethora of social issues existing in the United States of America today, it is important for our students to not only be aware of the issues, but to also understand them and be able to articulate their thoughts regarding the issues. Our project based approach to learning here at APH invigorates the educational environment by energizing the curriculum with a real-world relevance, and sparks students’ desire to explore, investigate, and understand the world.
In addition to classroom discussions, students participated in research, community partnerships, and service learning components. Following this in-depth look at social issues in the United States, Ms. Souris asked her students to in some way creatively express “This is the America I Live In.” The results were astounding. We never tire of seeing how our students continue to excel and thrive at The Academy at Penguin Hall.