Interview Day

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On April 13th, sixth-grade students at Oaklea Middle School in Junction City, Oregon, spent the day interviewing experts on social justice issues. Students enthusiastically anticipate “Interview Day,” which provides them the opportunity to learn more about topics they have spent the trimester researching.

Over the last ten weeks, Sherrene Kulm’s students researched social issues including homelessness, animal abuse, world peace, and racism as part of our Journalistic Learning Initiative. In teams of four, students interviewed experts such as Eric Richardson, President of Lane County’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and disability rights organizer April Wick of Full Access, and other representatives from local homeless and humane centers. Oaklea sixth-graders engage in two Interview Days per term, with about eight to ten weeks of preparation during which they pick topics, form groups, and conduct secondary research.

Tara Guber, a founder of JLI, sat in as an observer during the latest round of interviews. She reminded students of the power of “being present and being conscious.”

It changes who you are in the best way possible and the most easy way possible,” said Guber. “It’s very powerful. Its very important what you’re doing.”

Expert joined the classroom in person or via Skype for their interviews. “[Students] manage the conversation and they hold a virtual press conference,” said JLI Lead Researcher and Co-Founder Ed Madison during an interview with cUriOus radio. “It’s a great way for them to get involved in real-world issues.”

Students began the interviews with basic background questions such as how and why their subjects chose their respective fields, but eventually delved into deeper questions such as personal experiences with discrimination. Several were surprised by what their guests had to say. While speaking with a representative of ShelterCare, one student expressed his opinion that many homeless people were to blame for their circumstances, and questioned whether assisting the homeless was a worthwhile effort or merely futile. Through the exchange, he learned about the large numbers of homeless teens in Lane County, Oregon, a fact he had not previously known of or considered.

After the interviews, students participated in a class discussion. If one student missed jotting down an important soundbite, fellow classmates were there to help. “We’re all journalists together,” said Kulm of the experience.

One student, Kaden, picked out a quote from Richardson that was meaningful to him: “Diversity makes us stronger.” Other students noted quotes such as, “When you do something positive, spread it and speak up. Racism isn’t always direct.”

This most recent Interview Day posed a transformative learning experience for these 11-year olds by challenging biases and broadening their understanding of what it means to belong to a marginalized group.

During a powerful moment, a student named Hailey asked Richardson how one could prevent racism.

“It starts with every individual,” Richardson said. “If you stand up, be a good person and appreciate people, and understand that the world is a very beautiful place with many flowers of different colors–and you appreciate all the colors–you spread it. What you do is you spread it.”



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