JLI Follows Up With Former Students

By Jordan Tichenor and Ed Madison

Recently, 8th grade students from Oaklea Middle School in Junction City, Oregon reflected on their experience with JLI two years ago when they were in 6th grade. They participated in one of JLI’s pilot programs, which was embedded in their English Language Arts/Social Studies class each Thursday during the entire 2016-2017 academic year.

The students, who are about to finish middle school and move on to Junction City High School, identified the skills they felt have lasted after their experience with JLI. We’re only sharing first names, given that the students are still minors.

Kaden felt that he is better prepared to navigate a tricky media landscape as a result of his work in 6th grade.

“You’d look at one thing and think ‘that’s it.’ I mean the internet says it so it’s obviously got to be true,” said Kaden. “But now [I’m] looking at multiple websites, multiple sources, and making sure there’s no exaggerations.”

Jake said that group work was easier after his experience with the JLI program.

“My ability to work with a group has gotten a lot better. I would say I’m probably less headstrong than I was before I took it,” Jake said. He also felt that his ability to think outside of himself was improved through the program.

Avery, one of Jake’s teammates, thought it was important to have the opportunity to connect her classwork with the real world.

“When you’re just reading things out of a textbook and writing an essay about it you don’t really humanize it. But when you’re talking to someone who deals with this topic all the time, every day, as a job, it feels a lot more important,” Avery said.

Jake and Avery’s team researched the topic of homelessness. They interviewed Susan Ban, executive director of the non-profit ShelterCare, which provides resources for homeless people and families in Lane County. Before their team project, Jake thought homelessness was a result of personal negligence.

“My whole thing was like, if you’re homeless it’s your fault,” Jake said. “I’ve actually realized that some people can’t help what situation they’re in and some kind of government assistance can actually get them going and then they can be self-sufficient.”

“I got lot better at looking at facts, more than just what I personally believed and thinking about other people’s side of the story,“ Jake said.

He discovered that people his age can become homeless through no fault of their own. A sudden job loss or a catastrophic medical condition can financially impact a family, leaving them little recourse. Exploring the issue gave them a richer understanding of an issue that can feel very removed from the lives of some young people.

“I think I’ve become a generally better person after doing that, after talking to the experts,” Jake said.

“I’m just really thankful that I got to be a part of that class,” Avery said. “It’s really important that we are learning young how to help ourselves and help others by writing correctly and presenting correctly and being able to talk to adults that deal with this.”

Avery also felt that experience had an important effect on her public speaking skills.

“It definitely changed the way I present because presenting to an adult that deals with this topic, that could be a very controversial topic, is really important. You have to be able to act professional and really bring out your adult when you’re talking to an adult, and not be childish,” Avery said.

Other students, such as Kaylee, expressed that 6th grade was a great age to be exposed to JLI’s work.

“I feel like 6th grade is a place you can learn and build it up,” she said. “I think [JLI] helped me a lot in 7th grade.”

Kaylee and Kaden were in a group that focused on issues of race. The project had special meaning for Kaden who is biracial and one of the only two students of color currently enrolled in Oaklea’s 8th grade. Researching the topic led the students to discover several hate-oriented websites.

“You always think about segregation back in the 60s, and Martin Luther King Jr. … but I never really realized that even today there’s still racism in its newer forms … it definitely helped open my eyes to that,” Kaden said.

Later, their team interviewed Eric Richardson, president of the Lane County chapter of the NAACP. The conversation had a lasting impact on how Kaden now views issues of race. He said it led him to embrace his ethnicity.

As the students look towards entering high school, many are still figuring out what they want to do in the future. Others simply want stability and a good life for themselves and their families.

“I definitely want to do well in high school and go to college… kind of just want to have something steady, some sort of steady job so I can just be comfortable, like my parents and my grandparents,” Kaden said.

Avery hopes to continue with her writing and, perhaps, become a journalist.

“I want to help people and if I can do that by writing that would be magnificent,” she said.

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