Students began class by organizing their chairs into a circle. When everyone got quiet, the teacher silently stepped into the spotlight, placed an envelope on the floor, and then walked away. In the silence that followed, the mysterious envelope seemed to grow bigger and bigger… What were the students supposed to do now? One asked the teacher if she should open it, but received no response. Something was odd. Finally, a brave student got out of his chair, opened the envelope, and read the instructions to his peers: “Today the class is going to be completely in your hands. The topic is about Interconnectedness: The impact we have on others & the impact our environment has on us.”
Did the students take advantage of this opportunity and veer away from their responsibility? On the contrary! One by one, they began addressing questions of interconnectedness to build a remarkable discussion. “How does living in the Bronx affect your vision of the future?” asked one student. Another replied, “All I want is to leave, there is no hope here.” “Why do you think that way?” asked someone else. These are freshman in high school. The hour flew by in a fraction of a second. The bell rang and the students were still on the edge of their seats, not wanting to leave.
It’s because of classes like this that students reported at the end of the Fall semester how they became more open-minded, aware of their agency, and able to look towards their future with purpose and promise. Since our inception in 2014, we have touched the lives of more than 3000 high school students in title 1 public schools in the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district of the USA, and implemented 26 semester-long, daily QUESTion Classes. We are proud to say that our first cohort of graduating students had a 4-year graduation rate of 96%, in comparison with the overall school graduation rate of 90%.
With the spring semester now in full swing, the QUESTion Project is underway at three public high schools in the South Bronx. One school has adopted the program to reach all incoming 120 freshmen. Only a few months in, students are asking if they can take the class throughout all four years of high school. Alongside the students, the phenomenal teachers we work with are filled with inspiration for the impact they see. School principals champion the way for this program to grow into the future. We thank and salute the incredible schoolteachers and administrations we are working with!
Outside the classroom, our Student Ambassadors are deepening the project’s impact within their schools and communities by becoming mentors for their younger peers, co-facilitating the classes with their teachers, and running workshops for adults and youth. They were guests on a live radio show, they recorded and produced several podcasts, and they continue to organize and host community labs.
Filled with big dreams, we are about to explore our new partnership with a charter network of schools in East Los Angeles!!