2018 Youth Participatory Action Research Forum at Rutgers

June 08, 2018

“Hi. My name is Henry. I am a veteran. I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. After I got injured, I was honorably discharged and sent back to the States and have been in and out of homeless shelters since.” This was just one of six scenarios acted out by students presenting at the annual YPAR forum. Topics included homelessness and hunger, gender stereotypes, school violence, school security and safety, teacher quality and effectiveness, and physical condition of the city.

Students from New Brunswick Middle School, Franklin High School, Livingston Park Elementary, North Brunswick High School, Franklin Middle School and Shull Middle School in Perth Amboy reported their findings from self-conducted research at the 8th annual Youth Participatory Action Research Day. Under the leadership of GSE facilitators, they acquired the skills on how to conduct research and report their findings. Through these projects, they are not only able to identify an issue they want to tackle, but also apply their knowledge and acquire skills on how to find a suitable solution.

Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is an after-school program that encourages students to conduct original research on a topic of their choosing.  The after-school program began in February when GSE students returned to the schools in which they had student-taught in the fall to initiate YPAR programs. Throughout the spring semester, students met with the grade students weekly, teaching them the fundamentals of conducting research: identifying an issue, formulating a research question, gathering data, and evaluating conclusions.  Students selected topics that could provide solutions for the problems faced by their local schools and communities. Ages ranged from third grade all the way to high school seniors.

The students spent the day at Rutgers University participating in community building and social justice activities, scavenger hunts, tours of the university, and visits to the Zimmerli Art Museum and Geology Museum. The day culminated at the Rutgers Academic Building, where students gathered to present their research projects to peers, family members, friends, teachers and administrators from their school districts, and the university community. The students presented research on a range of issues relevant to their communities.

GSE students received guidance from Dr. Beth Rubin, professor and director of the YPAR program, on how to run the program in schools. “The program focuses on bringing skilled educators into urban schools by fostering engagement and promoting critical inquiry. The program turns the traditional one-semester teaching internship into a three-semester teaching residency in urban school districts,“ stated Rubin.

This program is housed inside of the Urban Social Justice Teacher Education program, which is designed to develop teachers to be engaged in and committed to excellence, equity, and social justice in their teaching practice. New Jersey is a uniquely diverse and urban state as defined by the following: large numbers of students from historically marginalized linguistic, economic, and cultural backgrounds; high-poverty districts or schools; and population density combined with educational inequality. The GSE Teacher Education Programs aim to develop a diverse generation of teachers prepared according to the New Jersey Professional Standards for Teachers with the skills and dispositions to both teach and advocate for all students, as well as to learn from students and their communities.

From using digital tools like quizzing platform Kahoot and video editing, to role-playing and telling the stories of those they encountered, these students showcased their expertise and passion for their communities. Some groups even engaged in conversation with their district’s superintendent to find tangible solutions that can be applied. YPAR continues to show why youth involvement in the community is important as well as reiterate that communities are made of the people within them.

The annual showcase has become a fruitful example of how engagement with the local community can foster tangible change. Not only does it promote creative thought among the youth, but it empowers them as change agents in their communities. To check out photos and video from the 2018 YPAR Forum, click here

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