Dec 2, 2014

GraduateSPeek: Student-Led Fieldwork


In the last thirty years, the rural town of Helena, AR has gone from the envious name of “jewel of the delta” to the colloquial “hell­town.” A gargantuan drop in population­ from 50,000 to 12,000­ has left Helena with a plethora of abandoned buildings, crumbling civil services, and has perpetuated a burst in inner­city problems: gang violence, theft, murder, rape, and drug trafficking. Tragically, these problems are a part of a student’s daily life.

Classroom - Kyle James cropped

In an effort to combat these devastating social issues, a momentous effort has been placed on education reform. This has resulted in the opening of a charter school to spurn policy and administrative difficulties that traditional schools face. While the opening of the charter school has had a hugely

positive effect in Helena, the local public high school, Central, is often left in the dust of “progress,” and used as the charter school’s unofficial alternative learning school­ akin to a permanent detention. The unintentional shadow cast by the charter school has had a devastating effect in the community.

Many students enrolled at Central feel that they are unimportant as they attend the school for self-exclaimed “nobodies,” or “failures.” As a teacher at Central, I believe this degradation of school ethos is completely unacceptable. In attempting to combat the poor school spirit, a group of teachers, Mr. Sellarole, Mr. Gramble, Ms. Rossoni, and myself, with the help of students got together to form the Central Hip­Hop Team to attack the various challenges our students face.

The greatest struggle for our (low-income, low literacy) students is in understanding the purpose of reading, writing, and self-expression when they feel they aren’t receiving a decent education as compared to students in the charter school. Our project takes the form of a documentary project. By empowering local high school students to speak about how mass media and local politics affects their daily lives, the hope is that students will become community leaders enacting positive and lasting change through their art. Through slam poems, scholarly articles, and paintings, the student-lead documentary will contrast the first year of the Hip­Hop club with the ongoing gang violence, and the impact both have had on the students.

The benefits of this project far surpass mastering the sterile Common Core objectives for high school students. By sharing personal experiences through art, the following possibilities open up for students: The chance to travel outside their rural town to present a high quality documentary to various audiences, scholarships, and reinforcing the idea that student voices matter and that students can direct their future with the skills they are gaining in school. For more information visit,

Kyle James graduated from the MACS program in 2013 and is working in the Mississippi Delta as a High School English teacher at a Title One school. By using a horizontal approach to local fieldwork he is seeking to empower students to enact sustainable change. This comes in the formation of student lead projects, which explore the various factors – gang violence, drug abuse, and failing schools – that plague the rural area in which he teaches.

GraduateSPeek: A Peek at what MACS Graduates are up to.



Oops!  Thanks to a reader for catching our typo in this post.  The title should have read Student-led Fieldwork.  We thought about calling it Student Leads Fieldwork, and it seems we conflated the two.  Good editorial eye! 



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Goucher's MA in Cultural Sustainability provides students with the training to identify, protect, enhance and work effectively with communities around what makes them unique: their traditions, ways of life, cherished spaces, and vital relationships to each other and the world. Read More

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