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In the Middle of Something Great

A collaboration between CLA and St. Paul schools helps middle-schoolers tell their stories, find themselves
June 1, 2016


Five hundred 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students from Parkway Montessori & Community School on St. Paul’s east side have been participating in a new initiative designed to better engage them in their education and to help close the achievement gap. Since January, post-doctoral researcher Kari Smalkoski, professor Jigna Desai, and a small team of CLA undergraduate and graduate students have been working with English language arts teachers at Parkway to develop and pilot a new curriculum that teaches the students to use digital tools and devices—specifically, iPads—to create their own stories. This is a pilot for a 5-year longitudinal project designed to address Minnesota’s educational achievement gap. Instead of focusing on standard educational benchmarks and disparities, the University team is shifting focus to one of structures of inequality, and engaging with what the youth already know and how that can support impactful and increased learning.

After a semester spent creating their own personal stories on video, they celebrated with a special festival at Northrop on May 4, where the students' work was screened. There was also a program with comments by University President Eric Kaler, College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman, and Generation Next Executive Director RT Rybak. Following the screening at Northrop, the students had a special tour of the University campus.

Hosted by the University’s Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, this project is a community-engaged partnership between the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center; Sprockets, the city of St. Paul’s after-school programming network, and Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School. Want to learn more, take the class, or bring this to your middle school? Send an email to Professor Desai.