Beginning in the spring of 2017, the 9th grade program at Indian Mountain School (IMS) implemented the Poquonook Solutions Project, a capstone effort within a broader, year-long focus on the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Named after the campus’ most significant and distinctive geographic feature, the mountain, the Poquonook Solutions Project brings the best of project-based and purposed-based learning together in the closing weeks of the ninth grade year. The students engage in an interdisciplinary academic effort that emphasizes among other things: creativity, design principles, group work, and the practical application of knowledge.
During their last six weeks oat IMS, small teams of 9th graders apply the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to identify an existing, real world issue and develop a viable and relevant solution. The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations to transform the world by 2030. The SDG framework does not distinguish between "developed" and "developing" nations, but instead, provides goals that are applicable to all countries. The 17 SDGs are No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequality; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; Peace and Justice Strong Institutions; Partnerships to achieve the Goal.
Employing research, design, and presentation skills, the team members collaborate as they work toward the Poquonook Solutions Symposium during their English, history, and science class periods. Students develop solutions, which they present to a panel of outside sustainability experts, who assess the solutions’ viability with an eye toward implementation. With feedback from these panelists, the teams then take further steps to realize their concepts, improve them, and write individual papers and reflections. In all the ways that matter, this final academic effort of the 9th grade year encapsulates the school’s motto: Life through Service.
[SDG Launch with Dr. Jeffrey Sack, Soledad O’Brien, Isabel Perez Dobarro, and IMS students: taken by a faculty]
The SDG Launch with Dr. Jeffrey Sack, a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, and a senior UN advisor was an inspirational kick-off for the students. Soledad O’Brien, a parent of one of the current students at IMS, an award-winning journalist, speaker, author, and philanthropist, also visited IMS and was a moderator for this event. With her husband, she is a founder of the PowHERful Foundation that helps young women get to and through college. Another special guest was Isabel Perez Dobarro, who leads SDSN- Youth Arts Twenty Thirty project. She has given lectures and speeches at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, United Nations General Assembly, and European Parliament. At the end of the SDG Launch, the faculties presented each SDG groups for the students. I was assigned in a “Peace” group, focusing on the 16th goal of the SDGs, “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institution”.
[A group of 9th grade IMS students with Soledad O’Brien and Isabel Perez Dobarro: taken by a classmate]
From a week of intensive discussion and research, our group decided to work to reduce sexism and racism for our cohort, Peace. We believed that the principle of “leaving no one behind” could not be achieved without establishing an inclusive society. Human culture is based on differentiation, and since discrimination is the primary source of human conflict, solving it will create peace and success in the future. Our regional focus is quite ambitious since we want our project to expand to a global scale. Yet, we started our implementation in Lakeville, CT. Our group initially planned to devise an app and create an Implicit-Association Test (IAT). However, given the allotted time and technical skills required, we shifted our plan to develop more viable solution in the marketplace. Therefore, regarding our solution, we contacted an IMS former parent, Judy Benardete, to learn more about building a business model and to benefit from a brief consultation with her, given her experience in the field. She generously provided us with very informative guidance.
Proceeding from the phone call with an expert, for the past few weeks, our group strived to build a strong curriculum. We constructed a curriculum to help reach targets related to a cohort of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)––specifically, #5 (Gender Equality), #10 (Reduced Inequalities), and #16 (Peace and Justice). To design a dynamic and engaging curriculum for students aged 7-11, to raise awareness about bias, and address it in a non-threatening way, we developed a means to compile empirically sound data and make progress towards the UN targets. Our pilot curriculum includes three activities: a creative, play-based exercise identifying students’ perceptions about the relationships among race, gender, social status, and occupation; an Implicit Bias Test (IAT) enabling data collection from our target demographic; and an “open narrative” comic capturing students’ assumptions about racial dynamics and gender roles in the workplace. The problem we seek to confront is ubiquitous, and the strife it causes in even the most so-called enlightened societies is undeniable, coming into increasingly unsettling relief with each passing day. As James Burnett wrote in The Boston Globe, “New research not yet published by Mahzarin Banaji, a renowned Harvard University psychologist, brain researcher, and racism and physical prejudice expert, and colleagues suggests that even though they may not understand the ‘why’ of their feelings, children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as age 3, and in just a matter of days.” There is a clear consensus about the societal harm caused by bias and discrimination; BiasED partners with educators to provide a curriculum in this underserved area of the pedagogical marketplace that intervenes at a critical juncture of childhood development, helping to secure a more harmonious future. Furthermore, we explored more partnerships for implementation of our curriculum in departments of education at the city/town-level institutions, and schools. Our hope is that numerous institutions will subscribe to and implement our curriculum in their schools.
I am looking forward to this unique opportunity which will be my last project in IMS. I want to work tirelessly to ensure that our group has put in a tremendous effort and that the project is successful. I aspire to be a leader within my group, effectively generating consensus from a chorus of disparate voices and perspectives. Additionally, I hope to contribute immensely to the team and play a pivotal role in the generative discussions which would lead our group to come up with a unique and viable solution. Personally, I believe that this project will help me to better communicate and work together in a group. Not only will I learn from conducting phone interviews and writing emails to the experts for advice, I will be able to articulate more effectively to the public from the presentation and gallery walk. Lastly, I hope to finish the project acquiring invaluable experience with project-based learning that I will be able to leverage in the future.
Indian Mountain School (IMS)
Jin Chey firstname.lastname@example.org
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