Collaborative partnership reinvents the future


The program supports K-12 students as they transition to higher education

Putnam County High School Students Work With Atlanta Playwright Natasha Patel This Year to highlight what it’s like to grow up in their community.

The scenes they wrote draw inspiration from local historical artifacts, including photographs that capture the racial and economic realities of Putnam in the mid-20th century.

The photographs, held at the National Archives, were taken in May 1941 as part of a Works Progress Administration effort to document American farmland. (Photo by Kristen Morales)

For some students, these photographs strike a chord: the street corners where people gathered almost a century ago remain virtually unchanged today. For others, these images raise questions about the people photographed. What stories did these people have? What challenges did they face? Were students related to the people in the photo?

By asking these questions, some students discovered new facts about their family lines, but all gained a better understanding of the history of their community.

Teaching students to investigate their past is a key part of a multi-year project between the Putnam County Charter School System (PCCSS) and the Mary Frances Early College of Education at the University of Georgia. For example, photographs held by the United States National Archives and Records Administration were used by Putnam teachers since 2018 to support the rich community learning activities that range from elementary school students to secondary school students.

“The goal of the Putnam Project is to sprinkle each grade level with activities focused on introducing students to hyper-local history questions,” said Theodore Kopcha, associate professor in the Department of Career Studies and the ‘information. “By the time the students hit grade 12, they’ve had several lessons with different teachers, all putting their own spin on this model and addressing the standards for which they are responsible in their own way. “

An expanding partnership

With a new research-practice partnership grant from the Spencer Foundation, PCCSS and Kopcha will expand their ongoing partnership by weaving it with Albany State University, a historically black university in Albany, Georgia.

(Left to Right) Candace Wooten, Andrew Grodecki and Whitney Priest attend a project-based learning workshop to help students align historical photographs with content standards for K-12 classrooms. (Photo by Kristen Morales)

Putnam and ASU have partnered for the past four years to educate first-generation college students. This program not only brings ASU administrators and faculty into Putnam classrooms throughout the academic year, but also sends nearly 90 PCCSS students and up to 20 teachers to live and work on the ASU campus for one week each summer.

The grant will allow those involved in the project, including UGA alumnus Christopher Lawton, director of experiential learning at PCCSS, to more fully integrate these two aligned efforts to create a pipeline between PCCSS and ASU, while continuing to develop and shape the Putnam model as a path to student success.

“The Putnam County Charter School System is committed to expanding the reach, scope and possibilities of K-12 public education to meet the unique needs of our students and others like them in rural Georgia, ”Lawton said. “We are honored that the Spencer Foundation sees valuable innovation in the work we have done in recent years and is willing to invest in the future we hope to create. This is a testament to our long-term, trusted partnerships with TJ Kopcha and UGA PhD student Katie Walters, as well as ASU Dean Melanie Hatch and ASU senior faculty in Arts, Biology, History, Education and Sociology. Each institution and team member brings unique tools and skills that together make us exponentially stronger.

One of the main goals of the Putnam Model is to engage high school students at all grade levels with their local pasts by participating in community projects, which have included research communities enslaved in the 19th century, rephotograph historical photos, conduct oral histories with older community members who lived through segregation, and investigate the history of agriculture and its links to modern plant biodiversity in the county. By participating in these activities, students develop critical thinking skills and feel empowered to eliminate generational rural poverty.

“A lot of times the dominant narrative doesn’t always match up with what students actually experience,” Kopcha said. “When the roots of this story are left untouched – or when other perspectives on this story don’t come to the fore – students feel that there must be something wrong with them because of they don’t experience what they think they are. supposed to live in their community. And so that’s really at the heart of the model.

Measuring student success

The UGA, PCCSS and ASU partnership aims to reverse the paradigm that students need to be successful in college on their own without the support of their institution.

“Now that we have this direct link with ASU, we ask how we can help students and understand what their expectations are,” Kopcha added. “A common perspective of college is that you sink or swim. And so, it really tries to create a space where we’re going to work with each other to find what’s best for the student.

For the project, Kopcha, along with doctoral student Katherine Walters, will continue to support PCCSS teachers by organizing professional development workshops with teachers and helping them create project-based learning activities that focus on incorporating local history into classroom curricula in a variety of subject areas. .

Additionally, Walters is developing a research framework that goes beyond assessing student performance on state standardized tests to assess the long-term effects of the partnership.

“Our project is multi-layered to help students understand the past through local history in a way that helps them understand who they are while bridging the transition to adulthood and the college experience.” , said Walters. “We are interested in students’ experiences with the curriculum and its impact on how they see themselves and others in their communities. What they become throughout this experience is as important as their academic performance.

To better reflect the extent of student achievement, the project will analyze other growth indicators that can help students make the transition to their post-secondary education, including student engagement, attitudes, sense of membership and more.

“The question becomes: does a shared pedagogical approach give them an advantage to make the transition to college easier compared to someone who might not gain this experience? Kopcha said. “Our vision for this project is to integrate this program into multiple high schools and see how it can ease the transition from high school to a place like ASU. “


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