A dozen Tulsa high school students will leave the traditional classroom behind in the spring semester, which began today, to be part of an urban classroom at City Hall, where academics meet the real world and the city itself becomes the text.
Jane Beckwith and Eder J. Williams McKnight, both Holland Hall teachers, have partnered with Tulsa Public Schools to create Tulsa Term, a revolutionary, experiential learning program that immerses students in real life scenarios, problems and social issues, as observers and change agents, to learn and seek solutions. The Spring semester class will be housed for the first time in vacant office space within City Hall at One Technology Center. The opportunity to host the group arose from Beckwith’s participation in the 2018 Civic Innovation Fellowship program offered by Mayor G.T. Bynum’s Office of Performance, Strategy and Innovation and led by Director James Wagner.`
“This is another way for the City of Tulsa to be a proactive partner in local education by providing classroom and collaboration space at City Hall where students will meet, then go out to explore the world around them. We are thrilled to host a program that engages students in a whole new way, prompting them to develop a hands-on understanding of places unique to Tulsa and the people who define our city’s character,” said Mayor G.T. Bynum. “Our staff may be resources, and in turn we hope to interest students in local government careers, policy administration and civic engagement.”
As an experience-based learning classroom, the program brings private and Tulsa Public School students together working as teams for a semester. Tulsa Term cohorts will be comprised of 12 juniors and seniors from Holland Hall, Webster, Booker T Washington and Hale High Schools. Using academic skills and experience, the students will earn academic credit in math, science, English, history, and a capstone project as they encounter and work through real problems; from learning how Tulsa’s past intersects with new opportunities, to public healthcare gaps and food deserts, to defining social gathering places and how they contribute to shaping community values, Beckwith said.
The program is student-centered, place-based, and transdisciplinary. It draws on effective methods such as design-thinking to foster deeper learning.
“We are reimagining high school,” Beckwith said. “We are excited to be welcomed to City Hall. Every day, City Hall will be our home base. We meet there to start our day, which may include learning new skills, research and making appointments to talk to members of the community. Other days we will be in the field on assignments, immersed and experiencing serendipitous encounters.
The idea for Tulsa Term stems from CITYterm, a program in New York City that used the urban core as its classroom. Beckwith developed a 7th grade curriculum known as “Downtown Studies” with two Holland Hall teachers. When Williams-McKnight’s joined the Holland Hall faculty, she also brought with her experience working with CITYterm in New York City, so the two co-created Tulsa Term for high school students.
“All of my educational experiences, from philosophy to approach, were concretized at CITYterm where I worked in an intense laboratory of thought with other innovative faculty and adventurous students,” Williams-McKnight said. “It was amazing to see students truly transform as they opened themselves to learning, realizing that everything is text: books, art, buildings, neighborhoods, other people, and themselves. I was determined to share that creative possibility somehow.
“Here at Tulsa Term, we are taking it one step further: cultivating a civic identity and sense of ownership so that they offer solutions to messy problems. They will lead now so that they can lead later.”