Students are leading the QUESTion Class! Over the course of this semester, more and more students are taking on greater responsibility in the classroom as teaching assistants. This role, however, is not new. During the QUESTion Project’s first year at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics (BCSM), Open Future Institute staff and teacher Jamila Blades created this position to underline the importance of peer-to-peer learning and leadership development in the classroom.

Now, at BCSM, students who graduated from the QUESTion Class can request an opportunity to become a teaching assistant. To prepare for this role, students must complete a co-facilitation training, dedicate time to review lesson plans, and meet regularly with their teacher to coordinate class agendas. Currently, the QUESTion Class has two teaching assistants working under this model, Marielis and Celine. Both took the QUESTion Class and worked with Open Future Institute as summer interns. Their experience leading community labs as QUESTion Ambassadors, paired with their time as students in the class has helped them become so comfortable in a leadership position that they are now practically running the class on their own!

The success of this initiative has inspired other QUESTion teachers to find outlets for student leadership as well. At Belmont Preparatory High School, teacher Novelette Foote assigned her QUESTion Class of juniors and seniors to co-facilitate with her for their midterm project. So far, upperclassmen who have led the class report finding a great sense of confidence within themselves. After discussing life topics with their younger peers, they also comment feeling a better sense of camaraderie with a group of students who they hadn’t know before. The freshmen, after seeing their upperclassmen leaders, are now asking when they will have an opportunity to lead discussions and take a more active role in their classroom.

These teaching assistants are reimagining how students actively learn. When they lead class discussions, students deepen their understanding of the material. By sharing their thoughts and ideas with others, students engage with class material on a more personal and professional level. In addition to the learning that takes place, student leaders recognize the importance of modeling the behavior that they want their peers to follow. When they see what it is like from a teacher’s perspective, they notice how their own presence as a student can affect their class community.

Ms. Blades and Ms. Foote are continually working with their students to develop leadership potential, even calling students in the audience to take the lead of a conversation topic for a few minutes. Rest assured, they are present to step in and support their students when needed. Even with this support, however, students are demonstrating a tremendous amount of care and pride in this responsibility. They take this role seriously. In the process of leading, students learn that leadership and teaching cannot be separated from each other. Now that they recognize this, they excitedly ask for more ways to learn.