School for Children’s Building Bridges Program Set to Expand Through New Fellowship Opportunity

This January, Bank Street School for Children will launch an expansion of its Building Bridges civic learning and engagement program for eighth-grade students through a new fellowship opportunity. The 12-month pilot program will include six social studies or English Language Arts (ELA) educators—three from New York City and three from Virginia—who will be partnered for the purpose of developing civic friendship between their students through an innovative exchange model.

2021-22 Building Bridges cohort of 8th graders from SFC and Madison, VA, meeting in person in DCEstablished in 2016 by Ali McKersie, GSE ’98, Eighth Grade (13/14s) Humanities Teacher, Bank Street School for Children, in partnership with Jared A. Morris, Curriculum Innovation Lead, Madison County Public Schools in Madison, Virginia, the program aims to develop students’ civic education, advance their connection between the classroom and the larger world, and build their understanding of the complexity of living in a democracy today.

“Since its launch six years ago, our Building Bridges program has helped students build a foundation for civic disposition and engagement as they converse and learn from each other, and we look forward to expanding this impact through the pilot,” said McKersie of the project’s expansion.

“We as educators have a responsibility to scaffold and model the skills of civil discourse and help develop perspective in our students,” said Morris. “By reaching across cultural, socio-political divides, and facilitating connections, we hope to build the capacity and provide the platform for students to engage in tough conversations. Programs like Building Bridges allow both educators and students to ‘dwell’ in each other’s environment. Our goal is to grow empathy leading to civic friendship.”

The pilot will broaden the program’s reach beyond Bank Street by engaging approximately 200 New York City and Virginia students. The six teachers, who will serve as facilitators, will be given a stipend of $3,000. The project will focus on both growing young people’s role as civic agents and helping teachers build on their practice through intentional, creative, and thoughtful collaboration across a range of school settings.

The program will kick off with teacher education and planning, which will include targeted professional learning opportunities for participating teachers to connect as a community from January through June 2023.

“Research shows that high-quality, equitable civic education requires a commitment to the implementation of ongoing teacher training and development, which can be undertaken through professional learning communities (PLCs),” said McKersie on designing the learning cohort model. “We envision this pilot at the beginning stage of a larger endeavor to develop and test new approaches to civic education that grow our collective understanding of the learning experiences that add authentic, lasting value to student outcomes in the area of democratic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.”

Drawing upon Bank Street College’s deep knowledge of educator development and preparation, the PLC workshops will play an essential role in the fellowship, providing participants with monthly facilitated synchronous online coaching sessions. The PLCs will help teacher-fellows learn to facilitate student-centered, humanistic learning experiences in their classrooms to set the stage for critical thinking, perspective-taking, problem-solving, and collaboration.

Additionally, the PLCs will offer space to document observations of student learning and growth through surveys and journals and identify ways to share new knowledge with immediate school communities, broadening the scope of the pilot’s potential impact. Workshops will be led by expert educators from notable institutions, including New American History, History Co:Lab, Facing History, National Humanities Center, and Bank Street’s College Prepared to Teach.

“The Building Bridges program reflects Bank Street’s mission to strengthen democracy and make the world a better place through education,” said Doug Knecht, Dean of Children’s Programs, Bank Street College of Education, and Head of the School for Children. “We are proud to extend this work through the pilot program to reach more students and teachers.”

Following the initial six months, the group will convene in July 2023 for a two-day online retreat to collaboratively build the learning course for students before launching the eighth-grade curriculum at the start of the 2023 school year. The program will facilitate cross-state student exchanges through December 2023.

At the end of the pilot, teacher-fellows will have gained a more profound understanding of inquiry as a primary mode of learning as well as how collaboration—between teachers and between students—can help cultivate an appreciation for different perspectives and respect when asking difficult questions, both of which are core elements of constructive civic participation.

To submit an application for the fellowship, follow the instructions under “Application Process” on this document by the December 16 deadline.