This week presented me with a great new opportunity to participate in a new volunteer program. Through Arcadia, I was invited to take part in a new project at Cheltenham High School run by the ACE Mentor Program. The program is a project-based learning initiative that will allow students to get hands on experience working in Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE). The students will work on a number of different activities created and inspired by community members who work in architecture, engineering and design, with an ongoing focus on a recent school construction as their case study. As an education student and future teacher, my role will be to build a lesson framework around the projects that the professionals create. This week was my first chance to participate in a planning meeting, in anticipation of next week’s big kickoff.
This was my first meeting with a group of professionals, so there were some first-meeting nerves as we got started. The group leader did a great job in communicating the goals of our meeting, defining the roles of each mentor, and describing the nature of the program. The level of organization and professionalism made me feel much more comfortable, and as the meeting continued, I felt it was easier and easier to find my role in the group. It helped that everyone in the meeting came from a different background, which in a sense allowed everyone to be the expert in their own field. Finding ways for new members of a group to feel comfortable and confident is a lesson that any educator should try to learn.
This meeting and the semester long project it will be a part of have an interesting dual role with participation. On a personal level, I am just getting acclimated with a group of new people, and will work to become a valued group member. But even as I work to become part of a participatory group, the tutors and professionals will be trying to build a participatory community for the students taking part in the program. In this report from the MacArthur Foundation, there was a quote that seemed particularly relevant to the ACE program. On page 5, Henry Jenkins states that “Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities.” In our case at Cheltenham, we are creating a program that meets the interests of students and will do so in a non-traditional learning environment. The ongoing goal will be to build this program into a place where students want to come and get their hands dirty and maybe even learn about a future career. Hopefully, as the semester progresses, the students will feel as welcomed and willing to participate as I did in my meeting this week.