What would you do if there were no restrictions? This was the question posed by teacher on special assignment Jennifer Lawrence when she reached out to fellow educators looking for colleagues to lead an extended learning experience for students.
High school biology teacher Erin Buke, middle school Special Education teacher Eva Warner Chazo and first grade teacher Margi Smith answered the call. Not only did these three share a passion for education, but they are also administrative interns together this year receiving their administrative credentials from Western Washington University.
“We are interns together and we talked about learning experiences we’ve enjoyed the most,” Chazo said. “As a special educator, I am an inquiry-based learning advocate because I know it creates access points for everyone.”
“I loved working with Erin and Eva around a vision for increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Smith said. “We wanted to maximize student voice and empowerment and build a new program that incorporates student-led collaborative projects with the potential for real-world application for a better future.”
Working together, the team came up with the idea for the Promise Tomorrow Initiative. The idea brings students together from across the district to design solutions to create a better world.
“We wanted it to be cross district because we were really interested in representing as many things on The Bellingham Promise as we could,” Chazo said. “We wanted it to be One Schoolhouse. We wanted kids to be able to use any kind of disciplinary thinking so they could study math. They could do science. They could have a learner that’s good at writing. They could have somebody who’s bringing in the history piece. We wanted to let kids really pursue their passions.”
The initiative began in January 2021 with the first group of 102 students from 18 schools. In this first group, their focus was on the topic “human condition.” Student projects took multi-disciplinary approaches to innovate technologies, designs or plans that create connections in their communities to promote positive change. Student collaborative groups worked across grades, met weekly and were supported by a volunteer and supervised by a coordinator. At the end of the project, student groups were asked to present their solutions during a symposium on March 18. Projects were scored and students are invited to share their best work at a final symposium at the end of the school year.
“I was really excited to see the level of student creativity,” Burke said. “They really dove into a problem of their choice, and thought outside the box to design a solution. It was amazing to see!”
Bellingham High School sophomores, Gillian Spilker and Grace Schamber, worked with a team on a project focusing on waterway pollution in Bellingham Bay. The overarching theme was climate change and the group chose to narrow the topic to a local solution by proposing a plan to implement rain gardens at all 22 schools in the district.
“It’s been awesome to work on a project that is so specific to where we live, and would impact our lives,” Spilker said. “For me, my greatest success was meeting new people and working super well together. Our project came together because we collaborated well and got comfortable discussing and debating solutions.”
Schamber shared that the project helped her develop stronger public speaking and collaboration skills.
“I was really pleased with how well my team worked together,” Schamber said.
The second quarter for Promise Tomorrow has just started and students will share their projects at a symposium on May 19. Due to the success of the turnout, Chazo, Burke and Smith hope to keep the Promise Tomorrow Initiative going next school year.
“I hope that we are able to continue the program and serve even more students,” Smith said. “I really believe that kids gain wisdom, connection and confidence through this process of defining a problem, finding a solution and presenting their project. Volunteers really seem to enjoy this opportunity to support their community, connect with students and make a meaningful difference in the lives of students.”