Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Conversation with Terry Peterson About the News Literacy Project (Part 2)

By Sam Piha

Terry Peterson has been an important figure in education and afterschool learning since before his service to the Clinton administration. See his full bio below. 

Q: Do you have any ideas of how we can bring the News Literacy Project into afterschool?

Terry Peterson
A: NLP is expanding in its three current locations: New York City, Chicago and the Washington, DC region. It is seeking new partners as well as funding to support the program in these areas. It is also seeking partners and financial support to expand the project to other locations, including Los Angeles.
Q: In the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Project, we promote 5 important learning principles: learning that is active, collaborative, and meaningful, expands horizons and promotes mastery.  How does this align with what you know about learning and engagement? 

A: Your learning principles fit very well with what we know about effective and engaging afterschool and summer learning programs.  These principles are even more important for older youth. 

Q: How do these principles align with the News Literacy Project?

A: These principals dovetail with NLP’s programs, both in the classroom and after-school. The project’s lessons are interactive and engaging. It stresses collaboration in its student projects. The focus is meaningful for students because it reaches them where they live – in a world saturated with news and information and through their devices, which is where they receive much of it. It expands horizons by bringing journalists and the world they cover into the classroom with authentic learning. It also encourages students to tell the stories of their communities and empowers them with the tools to do so accurately and fairly. Finally, NLP promotes mastery by giving students the critical-thinking skills to sort the credible from the incredible and helping them learn and use digital skills to engage effectively in the local, national and international conversation. 
Here is an example of bringing those principles to bear this fall in a classroom program: Youth Violence was produced by middle-school students in Chicago in 2011

Q: In California, all the dollars supporting afterschool learning opportunities for high school youth come from federal 21st CCLC funds (most of the funding for elementary and middle school programs come from protected state funds); how important do you think it is that we include high school age youth in the afterschool equation? 
A: It is very important that we include high school age youth in the afterschool equation. Nationwide this is a fairly new field of endeavor, so we don’t know a lot about how to do it well yet.  But this should not be an excuse to avoid working hard on developing more effective and efficient programming in afterschool and summer for older youth.  The reasons for providing quality expanded learning opportunities may be even more important for older youth, even though it is often more difficult to put all the key elements in place successfully.   Many high school age youth need more and better opportunities, time and helping hands to catch up, keep up and get ahead.

In this economy, graduating from high school and having the educational and personal experiences to possibly continue with career training or college beyond high school are critical if our young people today are going to be self sufficient and an active part of the American workforce, our democracy and economy.  Yet many middle and high school students get off track:

  • by not being able to find subjects or occupations of interest so they are bored, 
  • by failing core courses,
  • by not accumulating enough of the “right courses” to graduate or prepare for future training or education, 
  • by missing too many days of school or not turning in homework, or
  • by not seeing the relevancy of the regular curriculum so they may disengage or act out. 
Expanded learning opportunities afterschool and/or summers can help some of these young people to get and keep on track.  Effective programs are engaging and personalized, utilize caring and energetic community and classroom teachers, tap into learning opportunities in the community, capture the creativity of the arts and/or excitement of discovery in science and involve families.

Clearly the Learning in Afterschool Project’s 5 important principles of learning that include being active, collaborative, and meaningful and that expand horizons and promote mastery are terrific starting points for designing and delivering afterschool programming for high school age students. 

There is growing concern that some of the proposals to extend the school day or year will simply extend the same typical school day or year and won’t include these principles in a meaningful way.  Just doing more of the same longer won’t make a positive difference for struggling students.  In addition, this approach is very expensive, potentially reducing or eliminating resources for expanding learning opportunities in better, less costly, partnership, and innovative ways afterschool, weekends and summers.

Dr. Terry K. Peterson served as counselor to former Education Secretary Richard Riley. Terry spearheaded numerous national education initiatives during the Clinton administration as well as state reforms as education adviser to Riley during his governorship of South Carolina. In both positions, Riley said, Terry was his “right-hand man.” He remains deeply involved in education as a senior fellow at the College of Charleston, director of the Afterschool and Community Learning National Network and chairman of the national Afterschool Alliance. Terry called the News Literacy Project "very impressive" and "a very important effort." 

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