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Developing a Sense of Place, Peace, and Purpose: Using Urban Neighborhoods as Classrooms and Textbooks

Virginia Friedman, Michael Friedman, Alyssa Ripley, Olivia Vazquez — Belmont Charter Network

A Google search of “place-based learning” brings up idyllic images of young, suburban children exploring a natural area. The STRIPES program at Belmont Charter High School in the Parkside section of Philadelphia breaks that stereotype and highlights how an urban neighborhood can become a powerful extension of the classroom. STRIPES is an 11th grade, semester-long, elective program: Exploring Parkside (sem 1) and Designing Parkside (sem 2). Students apply into the program and participate in either/both semesters. Through the pandemic, STRIPES has taken different forms but has stayed true to its mission: Students learn through real-world, local experiences in the city of Philadelphia to develop a sense of connection, purpose, and possibility that empowers them to shape and impact their communities. STRIPES relies on three main pathways to attain its mission: authentic partnerships, integrated learning, and self-knowledge.

In this conversation we will discuss with participants the ways that they can connect with their neighborhoods and develop partnerships within the larger community. This is all done in the service of centering students’ identity and experiences through inquiry-driven learning and culturally responsive teaching. There is a recent move in Philadelphia to focus entire school programming around particular industries. STRIPES offers a way to introduce such meaningful experiences on a smaller scale. It is a flexible format that can adapt to many themes and can exist within the public-school system. We will discuss both the curriculum planning and the logistics needed to implement this kind of program.

Conversational Practice

At EduCon we will offer breakout sessions/discussions centered around the main pathways of STRIPES: authentic partnerships, integrated learning, and self-knowledge. How do they work and what do they look like? Former and current STRIPES students will be among the facilitators.

The conversation will wrap up with a focus on the nuts and bolts: the logistical pieces of implementing such a program, including scheduling and rostering, grading, permission slips, and other logistical pieces. We will also share larger evaluation methods in place to gauge the effectiveness of STRIPES in meeting its stated mission. Participants will leave with the information and inspiration needed to propose a place-based unit or program at their school.

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