Price Middle School students created new student handbooks for their first project-based learning (PBL) unit of the year.
By examining local politics, the pandemic and social justice, students worked together to develop a set of shared school principles, policies and processes to help create a positive school culture–in person and online.
For the first three to four weeks of the school year, or “Quarter Zero,” Price sixth, seventh and eighth graders were given the opportunity to be agents of change within their own school community by creating student handbooks.
“In the past, our wonderful middle school students have expressed frustration about not having a say in the governance and procedures that were enforced at Price,” says Diona Williams, PBSA PBL coordinator. “They didn’t understand why certain rules existed. Price teachers decided what better way to get buy-in from students than by having them research, write, and design their own grade-level student handbooks.
Through project-based learning, students at Thomasville Heights Elementary School, Slater Elementary School, Price Middle School and Carver STEAM Academy frequently explore racial justice and equity and develop real-life solutions to make change in their communities.
“What surprised me the most about our Quarter Zero PBL project was the buy-in from students and how strict the rules they created for themselves were,” says Whitney Thomas, eighth grade mathematics teacher. “Teachers were able to see what Price students truly desired in the school setting, which seems to be a calm but fun learning environment.”
The seventh grade student handbook prioritized empathy and excellence, stating “We will choose to live and work according to principles and not feelings. As 7th graders, we will face challenges, but we will strive to do the right thing, even when it is not the easiest or most popular.”
The principles continue: “With each thought, action or task, we will ask if it contributes to the love and liberation of ourselves and our people. We will love ourselves and our people. It is our responsibility to learn and grow so that we can be leaders in the journey towards liberation.”
“Success comes from mental toughness,” the handbook states. “7th graders have grit and tenacity. We understand that success takes hard work and we are ready to do the work it takes. Excellence is accomplished through deliberate actions done consistently and carefully over time.”
This quarter’s PBL modules were accomplished entirely online. Teachers kept students connected to the projects by encouraging them to study current events and local politics that affected their real lives.
“While we didn’t know exactly how project-based learning would play out within virtual learning, it ended up being an incredibly empowering experience for a lot of our students,” says Ms. Williams. “They were able to connect their work to existing Georgia laws and view their work within the current climate of civil unrest and increasing demands for equity within our society.”
The experience taught them about democracy by giving them the tools and opportunity to have a voice in how they are governed. “From a teacher’s perspective,” says Ms. Williams, “we now understand more than ever just how important it is to establish a culture at the beginning of the school year that embodies student voices.”