01/27/2010
My Voice My Community
"There's a lot of drug use in our community."

NID projects address problems that concern students

The story of Amy Gottesman and Denise Rogers' 5th grade class' project about the connection between crime and drugs illustrates the power of NID "My Voice" process to engage students in their own learning.

"There's a lot of drug use in our community," said 5th grade student Nina Migachev. "We have to tell people how drug use affects them."

When it came time for students in two fifth grade classes at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School to choose an issue for their service-learning project, their task was an easy one, especially after learning that Olney has some of the highest drug use in the city. Initially, their focus was on crime. Then they began to suspect that drug addiction had some connection to the crime level in their neighborhood. Ultimately, they decided to focus their project on how drug use affects people's judgment and behavior.

With help from their teachers Amy Gottesman and Denise Rogers, the students conducted Internet research to find out more about the physiological effects of drug use.

"We looked at what parts of your brain are affected, especially the pre-frontal cortex," said Alvin Panicker. "You lose your memory and your judgment."

The students also met with 35the Police District Officers Baynard, Blackford and Ramsey. The officers spoke about drug use in the community and, "They told us we should go to college instead of doing drugs," said Josh Maddox.

"They taught us in a funny way," said Melanie Rosario, "not a boring lecture. We were all participating. We had questions and they kept answering."

Reflecting back, Amy recalled that going into the project a significant portion of the students had negative attitudes toward the police.

"If we were going to do a project about crime and drugs in the neighborhood, we wanted to address the negative attitudes and the issue at the same time," she said.

Knowing the officers were from their school's police district contributed to the power of the visit.

"When they walked in the door, the kids said, 'I've seen him,' said Denise. "Instead of being a faceless police officer, there was a familiarity."

Amy agreed, adding, "Some kids lack continuity [at home]. It's nice [for them] to see that people care about what goes on here."

The students surveyed students in upper grades to find out their beliefs and knowledge about drug use. And they created a t-shirt with an anti-drug message to wear around school.

They were proud of their efforts and pleased to have learned core curriculum material through a project based on real world issues and needs. Said Avery Rivera, "It's cool to learn while doing our project."