Monday, February 13, 2012

From the Ground Up: Student and Teacher Make the Rules Together at City Semester

Today there were no field trips, no special guests, no scavenger hunts around Fieldston in search of the secret tunnels. Nope, today was just a regular day of school, complete with classes, lunch, and the rest of the student body to socialize with. And yet, today wasn't a regular day of school. It was still a City Semester day, through and through.

A regular day wouldn't have students help make the rules about scheduling, or on an upcoming assessment. And yet, that was the core of today: the students didn't become teachers as much as become autonomous in multiple situations. I was reminded again and again of how progressive this program is, as my preconceived notions on what constitutes as an "education" were stretched and expanded and twisted and flipped upside-down.

It all started with me sitting in assembly. I was thoroughly enjoying the hilarious and heartfelt kick-off to foreign language week (that Chinese music video had me in stitches) when Erika turned to me with a text from Bianca, telling us that we had Morning Coffee, and NOT Upper School Meeting. Confused because none of us had been notified beforehand, Hannah, Erika and I made our way to the Clubhouse, where they were--sure enough-discussing the protocol for subsequent Upper School Meetings. Yet it wasn't Mr. Meyers explaining the "rules"; instead, it was the students and teachers working together to come up with a proposal, one that would respect both the idea of City Semester as an "abroad" program as well as the fact that City Semester students do work with Fieldston outside of the City Semester program. This is what's so cool about City Semester: How trusting the teachers are with students to make decisions on scheduling and programming, that our opinions, after being in the Upper School for 3-to-4 years, are valid and hold weight.

After Morning Coffee was Solidarity in the City, in which we did a reflective dialogue activity which combined our recent readings (Eve Tuck, "Ethics of Indifference", "Remember the Lobster") with our trip to Hunt's Point. We all chose a quote from one of the readings and responded to it with a few ideas/anecdotes/opinions relevant to our trip. Then we swapped papers and responded to someone else's quote and response, and so on and so forth. The exercise was an interesting way to think about last week's trip, and helped me take what we had learned in class and apply it.

After Solidarity, we had History and Science. In these classes, the students were told to come up, as a collective, with questions we felt needed to be addressed in the upcoming Big Apple assessment and tasks with which we would address these questions. A very large list was generated, and yet again we witnessed the power of City Semester: We weren't so much learning facts and figures but instead we were discussing what the best way was to learn these facts and figures. Students discussed the merits of group work versus individual assessment, and our ideas ranged from historical biographies of food to proposals for a new fish market. It was made clear to us that we needed to include history and science in some way, and in Mr. Waldman's class, we discussed how we include science in our projects, be it quantitative, through laws, or explaining the physical systems.

Then was lunch (and senior portraits for Hannah and I!), followed by language. I sadly had to leave EspaƱol early due to the Championship Swim Meet, but when I left, we were going over the "doubts/disbelief" section of the subjunctive, which was to be followed by what I'm sure was an awesome food party.

Overall, today was a day that really made me think about how we view education, assessment, and the student's role in the classroom. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?!?!

Matt Gottesfeld

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