By Mary A. Durlak
Twenty-one students are focused, engaged, and participating—a teacher’s dream. The class is developing a story about two stick people drawn on the board: Buffalo Bob, age 21, and Buffalo Betty, 19. Bob and Betty had a baby, and now they’re trying to figure out their next steps.
Constructing Narratives Leads to Big-Picture Understanding
“I love interactive classrooms where students learn to construct a narrative,” said Stan Simmons, director of the Summer Success Academy for students attending Buffalo State through Buffalo’s Say Yes program. The Say Yes scholarship covers college tuition for graduates of the Buffalo Public Schools and the city’s charter schools.
Through the process of constructing a storyline, Simmons and his teaching staff are helping students see a larger vision. “We want to show students that things don’t just happen,” he said. “Each person’s story is made up people, events, and decisions.”
Fine-tuning Academic Preparation, Life Goals
As the class proceeds, Curtis Haynes, associate professor of economics and finance, integrates new ideas and reviews concepts he presented earlier in the five-week session. “What are the three C’s?” he asks. Some students call out a response. “Everybody together, clearly!” he says.
“Critical thinking, creative thinking, constructive thinking,” the class responds.
“We’re using this economics course to teach students how to perform well academically,” Simmons explains after the class. “That means learning how to work together, encouraging each other, going to the front of the room to speak to the class. And we want each one to be able to articulate why they’re here. They don’t have to be here. Why did they choose to come?”
As these recent high-school graduates put the reason for their decision into words, they grapple with the notion of different kinds of education—scholastic, professional, financial. Along with the idea of becoming educated about financial matters, Haynes asks what it means when a person cites financial security as a goal. “Do you want to be secure?” he asks. “Or comfortable? Or rich?”
Say Yes Makes a Difference
This is Simmon’s fourth cohort of Say Yes students, and he has noticed a difference. “Say Yes has brought the conversation about going to college into the community and the home,” he said. “Now we’re preparing them to become students with a healthy, creative thought process.”
To that end, students attend two classes daily from 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., earning a total of six college credits. The first class is Introduction to Economics; the second is Mastering the Economic Environment, which helps students hone study, research, library, and writing skills at the college level.
Simmons, a former school administrator, attends classes with the students. He also eats lunch with them before teaching a one-hour seminar that wraps up their day. “My goal is for students to want to be here more than they want to be elsewhere,” he said. He’s delighted when the students are sorry to see the session end. “There’s no greater gift for a former principal,” he said.
During the academic year, Simmons counsels, consoles, and challenges all the Say Yes students at Buffalo State. “The Summer Success program isn’t mandatory, so we won’t see some students until the semester starts,” he explained. “We have transfer students coming in, too. We’re here for all of them.”
And They Lived…
As the class wraps up, the students struggle to construct an end to the story of Buffalo Bob and Betty. “Let’s have Bob get his Ph.D. in psychology,” said one student. “I want this story to have a happy ending.”