Thinking Critically: A Year-Long Project Helps Prepare DREAM’s First 12th Grade Class for College

by | Jun 16, 2021 | 0 comments

DREAM Seniors 2021

When the members of DREAM Charter High School’s 12th grade class throw their caps in the air on June 23, the moment will not only be monumental for them, but for all of DREAM. The high school graduates will be the first in the 30-year history of the organization, which formed its first school in 2008, and opened the doors of DCHS nine years later.

Over the past four years, DCHS has worked to define its curriculum as a pathway to developing critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are ready to build, to innovate, and to drive change. For many, the culmination of this process came in the form of DREAM’s Advanced Placement Research course—a year-long, systematic deep dive into topics affecting the world today. Students not only read articles and developed a research paper, they also created their own hypotheses, built their collection models, conducted unique analysis, and presented their findings. The course is expected to become a cornerstone of DREAM’s education model for its high school.

“What I’m looking forward to is that this course becomes not just a class the students take, but something they’re aware of coming into the high school, a coherent rite of passage,” said DREAM Charter High School’s History Department Chair Matthew Beaton, who taught the AP Research course. “This is really important as a possible springboard for their futures. It’s also a test of thinking of their future.”

Take a peek into the projects of several DREAM Charter High School seniors below.

Arina Choudhury, The Representation of Muslims in the Media Since 9/11
Though born several years after September 11, 2001, Arina Choudhury, who is Muslim, says she feels her religion is often viewed through the lens of the terrorist attacks. “Even though I know everything about my religion,” she said, “I wanted to explore more about how society views it.”

Arina chose to use a content analysis to research how Muslims are represented in the news media, specifically CNN and Fox News. She theorized that while anger or tension toward the Muslim community in America still exists, it has lessened as the years since 9/11 pass. But as Arina researched stories on both outlets’ websites and pulled content from dozens of headlines, she found that the use of what she determined to be “negative” references to Muslims in the media continue to be common. “People to this day still have a lot of hate for Muslims, and I haven’t figured out why,” she said. “Maybe that will be my next step.”

Now bound for Queens College to study education, on her way to one day becoming a teacher, Arina says her AP Research project has taught her to apply her content analysis skills to things in her everyday life. “I do that on a daily basis now,” she said, “whether it’s for school or for fun.”

Julissa Banks, Colorism in Film
After a year where so many events were centered on social justice issues, Julissa Banks is grateful that conversations around race and racism have been prevalent in the DREAM community. But something she felt was lacking was a focus on colorism, or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, specifically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

Using the movie industry as the focal point of her AP Research project, Julissa, who will attend Baruch College in the fall, asked the question, “How does colorism affect the way films portray women of darker pigmentation?” In a data table, she categorized popular movies such as Us, Ladybird, and 12 Years a Slave, then tracked how many times dark-skinned people were shown in each film. “I noticed there was not a lot of representation of African-American women in film unless it was a slave movie,” she said. “There aren’t really movies where a dark-skinned woman is the main character, or coming of age.”

The results of her project reinforced for Julissa that the movie industry has a long way to go in how it portrays dark-skinned characters, but it was the process of the project that gave her hope. “I learned how to find evidence, and find a solution,” she said. “Working on this project made me feel like I had power and ability, and that I could give people knowledge.”

Christopher Contes, Anime and the Teaching of Japanese Culture
A fan of anime and member of DREAM Charter High School’s Anime Club, Christopher Contes chose to focus on the genre for his AP Research topic because he thought it would help to make the year’s worth of work more fun. What he found was the class taught him a lot more about himself, and how to think differently.

“If you would have told me in 9th grade that I was going to write a 16-page paper my senior year, I would have said you were crazy,” Christopher said. “But, I’ve learned how to write better. I’ve learned how to critique my work better and take critique of my work better. And I learned how to do research, so that later on in college I’ll have the skills with me, instead of going into it brand new.”

His ability to commit to such a lofty project and see it through also taught Christopher, who will attend City College in the fall, how much work goes into achieving your dreams. “Everyone can make it in life, everyone can succeed in whatever they want to do,” he said. “It’s just a matter of achieving your goals and putting in the hard work.”

Vanessa Pliego, Cancel Culture
Vanessa Pliego didn’t have to go far for her AP Research topic: Cancel culture, a digital form of ostracism, has been a hot topic on social media for the past few years. But what she honed in on was why her peers—high school students around the country—are so drawn to what she calls the “cancelling period,” or the time that exists prior to when the cancelled subject shows remorse or apologizes for what they’ve said or done.

Using a mixed research method of surveys and content analysis, Vanessa found that social algorithms and group efforts like doxxing—the process of searching for and publishing someone’s identifying information online—actually help to build a community in which young people develop a feeling of camaraderie and togetherness. According to Vanessa, who will attend Smith College next year, this period is more intriguing and exciting for young people than actually seeing someone reform, or change their behavior because of the awareness the cancellation caused.

“I think it’s so relevant, and has been happening for so many years,” she said, contemplating where her project could go in the future. “There’s so many aspects to explore within cancel culture, like psychological effects, that I would have wanted to research, as well.”

Isaac Lopez, Time Travel
Is time travel possible? For Isaac Lopez, who will study computer science at Tufts next year, the answer is yes…theoretically.

Isaac conducted an intellectual history content analysis on the theories of scientists such as Albert Einstein, Hermann Minkowski, and Erwin Schrödinger, studying how each influenced the world’s thinking on the concept of time travel. “Mr. Beaton gave me the idea that I should do an intellectual history content analysis, but he warned me it would be a college-level thing to do, that even a lot of college students struggle with that,” Isaac said. “It’s a tricky thing, and there are classes dedicated to it. But that is something I took out of this course—getting an understanding of how to do research at a college level.”

Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to test his theory, Isaac instead thought about what types of things could be used in future experimentation—would something like data, or a text message, ever be able to be sent back in time? A science enthusiast, he also found satisfaction in the process itself. “If you’re going to do something, you should do it with enthusiasm, or at least put in a good deal of effort,” he said. “So long as you find you learned something new, then it becomes important, and actually worth it.”

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DREAM started in 1991 as Harlem RBI, a volunteer-run Little League for 75 kids in East Harlem. Three decades later, the organization serves 2,500 youth across East Harlem and the South Bronx through a growing network of inclusive, extended-day, extended-year charter schools and community sports-based youth development programs. By developing an education model that is responsive to the unique academic and social needs of every child, DREAM is creating a future where all children are equipped to fulfill their vision of success.

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