Transforming High Schools:
Field Research in Youth Development
In her course "Field Research in Youth Development and High-School Transformation," IDCE Professor Laurie Ross is not just teaching her students about field research. She is sending them out into the Worcester Public Schools to be researchers. And in the process, her students and the high-school students they work with are being transformed.
The course, which is open to Clark juniors, seniors and graduate students is a hands-on look into how to conduct research and — more importantly — how to help local high-school students become empowered in their own learning environments. According to Ross, the course is a direct outgrowth of the Carnegie Foundation's grant to the city of Worcester and Clark to develop small learning communities, or "academies," within eight of the city's public high schools.
"The whole idea of these academies is to address problems in urban education in general. There are these large impersonal high schools and an achievement gap between minority and white students that we want to address," explains Ross, who coordinates IDCE's Community Planing and Development Program.
Final reports don't just sit on a shelf either. They are sent back to the public schools for evaluation and possible implementation. "The students are not just writing a paper or report for a grade," says Ross. "This is a chance for them to contribute toward a real research project endorsed by the Carnegie Corporation. This is the real thing!"
Active learning in the field
While students conduct traditional literature reviews at the beginning of the course, the bulk of their work and course assignments center around their field work in the participating Worcester high schools. Over the course of the semester, students are expected to develop research tools such as questionnaires and moderator's guides and then to use those tools in the schools. Ross' students conduct one-on-one interviews, focus groups and some serve as facilitators in the schools, helping a select group of high-school students research issues specific to their academy or "small learning community." Students are evaluated on a combination of:
- literature reviews
- interview tools
- weekly memos about their work in the schools, which are posted on Blackboard — Clark's virtual classroom— for class members to share and for Professor Ross to evaluate
- data analysis and final report