The following is an excerpt from Emily Elizabeth Smith’s essay which won the 2015 NCTE Donald H. Graves Writing Award. The full essay can be read here and it gives you a deeper look into how students transform as learners in The Hive Society.
…Working with an urban population in one of the fastest growing cities in America has allowed me a dark and sometimes twisted glimpse into what occurs behind the curtain of educational politics. I discovered there were worksheets upon packets upon booklets upon textbooks in place to help break the cycle of poverty. A temporary fix for a seemingly permanent problem. Instead, I began to take a new approach.
When working with low-income and sometimes at-risk children, the task at hand is much more than creating inspiring lessons. Students must feel safe and accepted. Their basic human needs first have to be met. My vision for their education is an all-encompassing one that reaches every need and glorifies every strength. It must first start with a cohesive community that interacts with social justice issues of today. The community I, along with my scholars, have built is a community that exists beyond walls and the digital world. The classroom is not a classroom. It’s the Hive Society. And if the Hive Society could be defined as anything at all, I would pin it as a buzzing incubator of dreams and thoughts.
There are no textbooks or desks in this environment. There are so “Shhhh” signs donning the walls. There often times aren’t even children raising their hands to share because the conversation has reached a state of fluidity.
These things alone aren’t why my scholars succeed. Throughout the year, my scholars and I run a successful “public” radio station with consistent podcasts that we produce/record/edit/publish, we complete multiple rounds of literature circles for social change, we put on two full-day lecture conferences (similar to TED) in which scholars research subjects impassioned by their interests and present them to peers and honored guests, we host weekly forums on social issues from empathy to poverty in our world where everyone is invited to share their thoughts on how we can make meaningful impacts, annually we research, write, film and design stop-motion animation films about topics central to our passions, we keep a frequently-updated blog, and even help our 1st grade reading buddies connect picture books to big ideas like ‘fairness’ and ‘equity’ in our world.
…I believe writing should not be measured in quantity, but rather in quality. The Hive Society is a sacred place in which hopes and dreams and wonderings and wild thoughts exist. My wish is, at the end of the year, those things will leave within the hearts of each of my scholars and continue to flourish as they find themselves through the lifelong act of writing.