HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: These sixth-graders could run the world

By: Andrew Campanella

 

Today, I am inspired! I am inspired, with greater hope for the future, by a new generation of leaders who are working hard to bring people from different backgrounds together.

These leaders include Madison Smith, who unapologetically believes that when people work together to take on complicated topics, “we can change the world.” They also include Pristina Gashi, who believes that celebrating the greatness of our country means understanding the different contributions we all make to our communities.

These leaders aren’t on the ballot. They aren’t anchoring network news broadcasts. They aren’t running nonprofit organizations. They are in the sixth grade!

Madison, Pristina, and the rest of the sixth-grade class at the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) in New London, Connecticut recently embarked on a learning project that brought their community together.

Community Faces - Humanizing the Immigrant Label by the ISAAC is honored

ISAAC students receive the Angela Andersen Memorial Award at the Connecticut State Capitol

Through websites, art projects, and journalism, ISAAC’s sixth-grade students told the story of immigrants in their community – everyone from people whose families came to the United States in the early twentieth century to those who became members of their community only recently.

The project is “Community Faces – Humanizing the Immigrant Label” and the project’s video is nothing short of extraordinary.

To prepare for this project – which received acclaim in the Connecticut news media – students took courses on researching, on conducting journalistically-sound interviews, on writing compelling narratives, and even on taking still photographs of interview subjects, on plotting maps and geography, and on developing websites and visual displays.

According to Mike Kuczenski, ISAAC’s social studies teacher, “Community Faces” fosters better and healthier communication inside and outside of the school.

“We’re a lot smarter when we learn from other people,” Kuczenski said. “It’s the easiest and hardest thing to do: to listen to each other.”

Community Faces - Humanizing the Immigrant Label by the ISAAC

Community Faces – Humanizing the Immigrant Label by the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) in New London, CT

The project is part of ISAAC’s unique focus on expeditionary learning, which the school has the freedom to pursue because of the strong emphasis placed on district, magnet, and charter-based school choice in Connecticut.

ISAAC’s principal, David Howes, said that the school aims to inspire students to be “courageous citizens who are difference makers.”

“We try to create projects that are rigorous, relevant, and build relationships,” Howes said.

Community Faces - Humanizing the Immigrant Label by the ISAAC

Community Faces – Humanizing the Immigrant Label by the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) in New London, CT

After completing “Community Faces,” students at ISAAC will be taking on new expeditionary learning challenges, including a potential science-based exploration of lobster populations in the Long Island Sound and how the depletion of those populations impacts local residents and the environment.

Every January, students at ISAAC take time to recap and celebrate the previous years’ learning during special National School Choice Week events. In 2018, Howes said ISAAC held a community meeting “where the entire school community comes together and kids will present things that they’ve done.”

I cannot wait to see what ISAAC plans for 2019. Without question, this community of leaders has a lot to celebrate, and the rest of us owe all of these incredible students a debt of gratitude.

Read more: 5 Questions for David Howes, Principal and Executive Director, ISAAC School, New London, CT