What does a young person need in order to be a success? For some at-risk kids, the very idea of success in school or in a career seems out of reach. For these young people, being able to visualize a positive future is an important step towards making that future a reality.
Envision 2020, a project of the New Learning Institute in White Plains, NY, asks young people to do exactly that. It challenges middle school students to imagine they have 20-20 vision into the future and to use that vision to see themselves in the year 2020, when they will be young adults.
For two years in a row, beginning in 2008, NLI has partnered with White Plains School District and the Westchester County Government to offer this unique program to middle school students from across Westchester County. Using a project-based curriculum developed by the New Learning Institute, students worked in small groups, wrote scripts, and used state of the art mobile and digital technology to create videos that expressed their personal vision of the future.
Where Will You Be in 2020?
For young people in seventh and eighth grade, the year 2020 may seem like a distant future. Yet the skills and habits they develop now will determine whether or not that future will be a happy, successful one. The educators of the White Plains School District know that many of their students face difficult challenges in school and at home. They asked NLI to create a summer program that emphasized positive feelings of self-empowerment for some of their at-risk students.
In response, NLI, working with White Plains administrators and teachers developed the Envision 2020 program for the summer of 2008. Over120 young people took part in the two-week camps, held at five locations throughout Westchester County. The camps were held at sites sponsored by the Girls and Boys Clubs, The Don Bosco Community Center, the non-profit Cluster, Inc. and the White Plains School District.
At the beginning of each camp, the students were led in a series of discussion in which they were asked to imagine what the world would look like in the year 2020 and at the same time, to think about what they would be doing in that world. They were also introduced to the idea of creating digital media that could depict that future. Students were shown examples of digital stories produced by young people at other NLI workshops and led in a discussion of different forms and genres of media.
Guided by a worksheet that contained prompts for different types of scripts, the students began by writing a narration for their stories including scripts for short video pieces. They then worked with the NLI team to plan their projects, deciding which images, music and other elements they would need. Over the course of the two-weeks they used Nokia smart phones to record their narration, capture digital photos and video, conduct research on the Internet. They then used advanced digital editing software to complete their projects.
Students envisioned themselves in a wide range of successful careers, from Olympic athlete to inventor to television journalist. Their imaginative and moving digital stories included news reports from the future, ideas for innovative technology and portraits of their future lives.
In the fall of 2008, the completed Envision 2020 digital stories were presented to the White Plains community in an evening celebration at the Westchester County Center. Over 300 people attended the event including parents and extended families as well as officials of the White Plains School District and government. The guests were served a buffet dinner, and then watched performances by a local dance group. Speakers at the evening included remarks by the Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, Mike Quesnell Senior Manager Community Involvement from Nokia and Timothy Conners, Superintendent of the White Plains School District. The student projects were presented in a special viewing room set up for the occasion and lucky raffle winners won mobile phones donated by Nokia.
Visions of Your Community
In 2009, the same partners came together to offer Envision 2020 summer camps for a second year. The curriculum was revised to encourage the students to see themselves as members of a greater community, the City of White Plains, in the year 2020. The students were asked to act as city planners and come up with ideas to help their city meet the challenges of that future. The program was also expanded to include the latest in mobile technology. The participants worked with next-generation Nokia smart phones and learned new geo-spatial skills.
Working in small groups, participants created personalized 3-5 minute digital stories that reflected their vision of the future of White Plains. Experts in the field of urban design and officials from the City of White Plains visited the students and helped them identify issues in urban planning to use as focal points for their stories. Many of their ideas focused on improving environmental conditions in the city, with suggestions that included bike paths, green markets, and green rooftops.
At the conclusion of the program, the Envision 2020 projects were installed on a server maintained by the school district where they can be viewed by students and used by teachers as educational tools and examples of student-generated multimedia content.
Of course, merely envisioning a successful future does not insure that it will come to pass. But in the course of thinking about, planning and mapping their future the Envision 2020 participants gained valuable skills that will help them make that future a reality. They learned how to organize a multi-step project, work collaboratively and express their ideas through writing and images. And they did this in the context of hands-on training in advanced information technology. These are skills that they will need in the year 2020 and beyond.