Friday, June 29, 2007

How to Fund a Democracy Club

The following is the first section of a first draft of a Request for Proposal idea that I am working on. The idea is to describe a program that key people in high schools in my county will find interesting and will want to implement -- and then, to find the money to fund the program. This RFP uses the term, "Learning Club," rather than the term, "Democracy Club." The next section of this RFP will ask that potential teacher teams (2 teachers), interested in implementing this program in their high school, respond to this RFP by describing how this idea could be incorporated into classes that they teach, by making a brief outline of how a teacher / student research team might operate, by listing resources they would use, etc. (I still need to think this next section through.)

Students Will Be Motivated

To Study Big Questions

Our non profit foundation seeks to support the implementation of a program of project based civic education within area high schools. We are seeking a high school that is interested in working to:
  • encourage teacher and student leadership,
  • create good examples of curriculum based project learning,
  • create good examples of curriculum based independent study,
  • bring expert speakers to the school / create live events,
  • generate authentic dialogue and increase understanding about civic matters within your school community, and,
  • provide opportunities for your community to participate in civic education.
To be successful, this program will require a big commitment of significant time, energy and creativity by a core group of teachers and students. This RFP is based on a belief that one source of motivation is found via the opportunity for personal control, personal creativity. It is based on the belief that one source of motivation is found within the encouragement of a meaningful community, one that shares a common vision of accomplishment. It is based on the belief that we are all intensely interested in better understanding big questions that impact our future.

Our goal and hope is that your high school can integrate this program into many aspects of your school. In this program, a core group of interested students and teachers in your school will work on a year long project. This project’s theme will deal with the challenges of the future and will have a title like, “The Challenges of Our Future,” or “Our World in the Year 2040.” (When most of today’s high school students will be about 50 years old). Your Learning Club -- created as part of this RFP -- will chose the title of the theme. From this general theme will come more specific questions about the challenges of the future. Such questions would be big questions such as:
  • Why is there poverty, how can poverty be diminished and what is the plan by which more and more people can become prosperous?
  • Why is there war and how can the prospect for war be diminished?
  • What is injustice and how can injustice in our country be diminished?
  • How is our environment endangered and what can we do to help improve our environment?
These big questions are civic questions, because, as a democracy, it is essential that we, as citizens, have understanding about the problems that face us. These big questions can and should be studied from many points of view, with the goal of gaining in-depth understanding. We all want to know the answers to questions of deep meaning. The prospect of becoming engaged in a process, working as a team, tackling a big question, should be the basis for motivating some teachers and some students to new levels of academic and personal achievement.

Program Structure

Learning Teams: Will consist of two teachers, each teacher a mentor to four students, and will welcome other interested students and teachers.

Purpose and Activities of Learning Teams
Learning teams will focus on investigating one big question by looking at many aspects of the question from many perspectives. Each member of the team will embark on an independent study of the topic and eventually will explore in-depth some aspect and some perspective of the question. Each member of the team will become an expert in some aspect of the question. Learning teams will meet about 20 times during the year and will also communicate via the internet.

Mentees / Selection and Activity
Mentees will be selected by the two teachers of the Learning Team from an RFP process. Mentees will define, with their mentor, a program of Independent Study using criteria established by the Local Board of Education. This Independent Study should be planned to result in either a credit or half-credit and will be accepted as a partial fulfillment of the total high school credit graduation requirement established by the Local Board.

After School Learning Club
The After School Learning Club will meet once each week. This Club is an after school activity for Learning Team members as well as other interested students and teachers. The purpose of this club is to give a forum for members to share their research and as a forum for general brainstorming about how the entire project can improve, etc. The Club will operate by democratic rules and will elect officers, who will establish an agenda for each meeting. The After School Club will meet about 25 times in a year, and members will also communicate on a regular basis via the internet.

A Public Series of Events
The study of big questions should culminate in a program of public events. Such events will give opportunity for both teachers and students to share in the knowledge they have created. These events may include participation of guest speakers in a seminar setting, where a learning team of students may dialogue with the speaker and where the public will also have a chance to participate. Such events may also be a structured debate between two guests. Such events may also include video presentations created by students.

A Video Record
The work of the Learning Teams and Learning Club, and a record of the presentations at the public series of events, will be summarized in edited videos and short video documentaries will be produced as one tangible product coming from this program. These videos will be posted on the internet so that interested members of the community may have access to watching them. Some videos may also be shown on cable access TV.

Each Learning Team will be budgeted for $12,000 as follows:

$ 7,500 2 teachers @ $3750 stipend each
$ 1,000 2 teachers project budget @ $500 each
$ 500 Project Coordinator stipend
$ 750 Videographer
$ 750 Art teacher stipend
$ 750 Awards / Incentives / Refreshments
$ 750 Expert help / guest speakers

The expected time commitment for teachers is 130 hours, spread throughout the school year.

The project coordinator stipend will to allocated to one teacher on the Learning Team. If a school is funded for four Learning Teams, then one of the eight teachers on these four teams will be allocated an additional $2000 to serve as program coordinator ($500 per team).

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