This past summer, Green Dot Public Schools California launched their newest literacy accelerated learning program, Changemaker Academy. This program is a free week-long immersive experience for 7th-grade students to immerse themselves in a project-based learning environment.
Changemaker Academy is the first of its kind program from Green Dot CA. A cohort of seventh-grade students from California’s network of schools came together at Ánimo James B. Taylor Charter Middle School. During this week-long experience, students focused on literary based projects and ended their week with a final project in the form of either a TikTok, TED Talk, or podcast about a social issue.
Alyce Prentice, area superintendent for Green Dot CA, believes that innovation has been at the forefront of programming since the network’s founding.
“The Changemaker Academy is a dynamic, innovative learning experience. We designed (it) to accelerate learning for our students this summer, specifically in literacy. We wanted it to feel like something very different than what you would typically experience in a school day during the school year,” Prentice said.
Green Dot CA’s senior coordinator of innovation and instructional Technology, Julia Fisher, in partnership with our curriculum specialists, developed Changemaker Academy. During the summer learning event, students were bussed from their home school to Ánimo James B. Taylor throughout the week. They were able to use literary skills in reading, writing, and research to come up with a final project to explain different factors that contributed to the homelessness issue.
“Changemaker Academy is infused with the personality of a fun summer camp. We’ve got electives. Students are learning, and at the end of the day, we want students to leave the week feeling a sense of agency, that they were able to learn about a social issue, brainstorm solutions to it and end up with a really cool product,” Prentice added.
College, Leadership, and Life
“What is unique about Changemaker Academy is it gives students a lot of autonomy when it comes to what they’re doing,” said Simyona Bryant, a partnering teacher (Animo Inglewood Charter High School) for the program.
“Students were able to gather information from different texts. It was cool because they got so many videos and read the informational text. And they could synthesize all of that information to develop cool projects,” she added. Bryant is confident that Changemaker Academy will show students the critical thinking skills they need and get them excited about literacy outside of school.
Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School eighth grader Orlando Andrew, learned that building skills is a process, and forming these critical thinking skills at an early age is essential for success.
“I feel like I’ve grown in writing, but I’ve also grown in researching. Before, I would just go on Google and use the first thing I saw. Now, I actually try finding websites on my own. I’m looking to see which one is the best,” Andrew said.
In reflecting on the success of the program, Green Dot California’s curriculum specialists have been focused on finding more ways to provide students with crucial tools they need to succeed in this project and for the world outside the classroom.
“I want to bring it back to the real world. When we think about preparing students for college, leadership, and life, we have to prepare students to exist in a world without us, the educators, in their lives,” said Angie Amador, Green Dot California’s literacy curriculum specialist. “Having them focus on reading, writing, speaking, and listening in different modalities,” she added.
Embodying a Changemaker
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but Changemaker Academy sets students up to become the imperative for change in their communities. The week culminated in a celebration of learning with student presentations, as both students and teachers reflected on what makes someone a changemaker.
“Learning about homelessness has inspired me to be a change maker and change the world because homeless people don’t have a voice and are rarely heard –I want to change that.” Says Diana Francesco, an eighth grade student attending Ánimo Jefferson Charter Middle School.
The most significant reward for students and educators participating in the week-long event was the new outlook that many students ended the program with. “I had students come up to me and ask to volunteer at a Covenant House or midnight missions. That is amazing. ” said Danielle DiVello, English teacher at Animo Legacy Charter Middle School.
At Green Dot CA, we want our students to understand their role changes in their communities and beyond. We believe that Changemaker Academy has provided students a lens to understand the power of their actions. “I learned with students from other schools. Everyone comes from a different background. Everyone has their own opinion, but they are not necessarily wrong. I learned that you can always find a way to work with someone and have fun,” said Gabrielle Estrada, an eighth grade student from Ánimo Florence-Firestone Charter Middle School.