On May 15th, Charles and Mara visited the Corre la Voz after school program, a collaboration between the Oakes Community-based Action Research and Advocacy Program at UC Santa Cruz and Bayview Elementary School near UCSC. We were able to visit with PI Leslie Lopez on campus to learn about both programmatic and shared UCSC history (Mara and Leslie were slugs together as undergrads!) and generally catch-up before visiting the school together. Some photos from our visit are here
Corre la Voz (CLV) meets in the library of Bayview Elementary School. Four hexagonal tables and one rectangular table were set with the children’s folders. Some of the tables already had iMac computers on them and others had Chrome book computers for the students to work on with their mentors. Some mentors prefer to use their own laptops for projects, so they can take them home to work on them. The Program Assistants (PAs) and undergraduate mentors arrive early and set up the room, getting out a cart of materials that is stored at the school (dictionaries, tape, markers, glue, hanging file folders with children’s logs) and setting up posters and an easel that displays the schedule for the day.
On the day we visited, there were three scheduled activities: Poder de la Palabra, Dinamica, and Project Time. The first activity of the day, Poder de la Palabra, has a low-ratio of children to mentors, and usually allows time for the small groups or dyads to work on reading homework or other literacy-based activities, and to build personal relationships. However, on the day of our visit, children had the option to work on their personal research projects since there were only a few sessions left before the end of the year celebration when these would be shared with their peers and families. All of the participants chose to work on their projects. The second activity, Dinamica, is a whole-group activity that emphasizes movement, socialization, and communication. Weather permitting, it’s held outside on the field or blacktop of the school. When we visited, the activity was kickball! The last part of the day, Project Time, is a scaffolded small-group or low-ratio activity that is continuous and cumulative over weeks or months. As we observed, it provided participants more time to work on their projects.
On the day we attended, there were approximately 12 fourth and fifth grade students working with 10 undergraduate mentors as well as Leslie. The students poured into the library after school let out and began talking with the undergraduate mentors. The groups quickly got to work on their personal research projects that they were trying to finish before the end-of-the-year celebration and presentation that was to take place in a couple of weeks (“Family Night”). Children worked with mentors individually or in groups and there was a mix of both. At CLV, particular students work with the same mentor over the course of the quarter. The project for the spring quarter was a personal research project where students chose a topic that they cared about and connected with to research (the children were asked to focus on something they are curious about, regarding where they are from, or about their own lives and the world right now, or about where they think they are headed). Over the course of the quarter, students worked with mentors and used Task Cards to help guide them in choosing a topic, conducting research and an interview, and developing a Google Slides presentation. Research topics ranged from fashion, to dolphins, to tacos. A pair of 5th grade girls focused on fashion decided to divide their tasks, with one focusing on the facts and one focusing on inspiration. Rosa (all names are pseudonyms) gasped, “Did you know the first Doc Martens were created from old tires?”
The Dinámica activity started with very detailed directions. It seemed to us that few if any of the children had ever played kickball before. Later, we learned that there was more to this than met the eye and ear. Leslie noted that most of the children actually had played kickball, perhaps frequently--but the mentors had no way of knowing this ahead of time; and in fact a number of the mentors themselves were unfamiliar with the game. In any case, part of the premise of presenting “playground games” in the Dinámica activity is to make all of the rules explicit to everyone, using “the power of the word” to even the playing field, rather than allowing “insiders” to dominate the game with their privileged knowledge. Another aspect of Dinámica games is that they all have social and communicative objectives, or “new twists,” like having points won or lost for your team according to how people treat each other. A third dimension of Dinámica Directions is that it is one of the main structured moments in the day in which CLV practices “standard classroom behavior” (mentors give verbal instructions, and expect engaged whole-group listening attention). Given the importance of this moment, the undergraduate mentors meet together in Committees (led by PAs) to develop drafts of the directions and explanations and rehearse, in a two-week process. Committees rotate responsibility for guiding Dinámica and the classroom each week.
On this day, the mentors stressed the importance of communicating and listening to teammates and explained the roles of offensive and defensive teams. One child observed, “It’s kind of like baseball.” The mentors also added some teambuilding rules of their own such as - for a run to count, your team has to give the runner at least three encouraging sentiments while they’re heading to home plate. The children, accustomed to these careful directions, listened to every word. When one child raised his hand, the undergraduate mentor explaining the activity gently asked the student if she could wait until the end to ask her question. The teams were already chosen and after reading who was on which team all of the children ran outside and started the game. The children appeared very engaged. Teams were switching sides easily, and everyone quickly figured out what to do in different situations. Having been prompted early by the undergrads, the children shared cheers and encouragement as anyone, even on the other team, ran home: “Keep up that same energy!”
During Project Time, the 4th and 5th grade students worked with their undergraduate mentors to further their individual or group projects. One group elected to come back a little early from the Dinamica kickball activity to set up for an interview. Claudia was working on a project about dolphins and had drafted an interview protocol for the UCSC marine biologist that she was speaking with that afternoon. Before the kickball activity she was reviewing her questions and when we saw her again after her interview, she was busily reviewing the notes she had taken during the interview and incorporating them into the Google Slides presentation she was developing.
Similarly, Luis, another undergraduate mentor, was working with two students, Eduardo and Juan, to review video footage from an interview they conducted with a member of the UCSC soccer team. The mentor pointed out that the children could edit the video to take out images, talk, or sounds that they didn’t like (e.g. “ummm…” or long pauses) or didn’t fit with their presentation. He talked with the students about the editing process but left them in charge of what was included in their video. Luis suggested that as the students were reviewing the video they could write down the times that they thought needed to be edited out. Eduardo quickly noticed a section of video that he wanted to be edited out. “Good job!” Luis encouraged. A few minutes later, Luis stopped the video to point out instances where the students went off script and used their own words. “See how well that worked?” he suggested. Eduardo and Juan continued reviewing the video collaboratively with Luis’ expert guidance, commentary and receptiveness.
Importance of institutional support - CLV has been running at Bayview Elementary School for close to 8 years (10 years in Santa Cruz) and has been sustained through the tenures of three principals. The transitions have not always been smooth and there have been times when Leslie has had to step in as the Site Coordinator (as is currently the case) and liaison between the program and the school. For many years a K-1 teacher served as the Site Coordinator and was a huge champion for CLV. She helped coordinate with the 4th and 5th grade teachers to make the connections between in-school and after-school. Recently, a 5th grade teacher stepped up to champion the continuing relevance and presence of CLV at the school during the most recent change in leadership. This teacher has had the benefit of knowing the work of CLV over the last ten years and was instrumental in imparting her knowledge to the new principal. This teacher is well respected both at the school and the district and has agreed to come on as the CLV Site Coordinator this coming fall. The building and sustaining of relationships really do pay off!
Leadership team - CLV has created a built-in distributed leadership structure that develops leadership skills throughout the team. There are three undergraduate Program Assistants who meet weekly with Leslie to do “backstage” work like planning, recruitment, and program administration, and each leads a group of undergraduate mentors. The PA’s are “mentors’ mentors,” working to stabilize and reproduce the principles and routines of the program, welcome and model standards and belonging for new mentors--and demonstrate their power as co-leaders. They help lead trainings, and their voices carry considerable weight during meetings and seminars; they clearly contribute their opinions, priorities, and creativity to the program. As Committee leads, they convene and guide work outside of class on Dinámicas twice each quarter, and provide ongoing support to their committee members. All mentors--even those just starting--are expected to take on leadership roles at site. These leadership roles include: developing and reviewing the agenda with the children, facilitating small group activities, and drafting and explaining directions for the Dinamica activity.
Digital projects - We viewed Pablo’s almost finished video of his interview with a UCSC Latinx student about his sometimes difficult cultural adjustment to the predominantly white social world of college. Pablo asked a series of very insightful questions, and the UCSC student’s responses, especially after being edited by Pablo, were to the point, compelling and moving.
The return of Task Cards - Task cards are a new addition to CLV this quarter. Leslie developed the task cards specifically for the personal research project. The undergraduate mentors got introduced to the task cards this quarter as well. The mentors are finding them useful in that they provide guidance and structure for the personalized research project. One mentor noted that it seems to motivate the students to follow through and finish the specific tasks. Task Cards are saved on Google Drive and students can make a copy to their personal drive and then personalize the task cards for their own projects. Having seen children and undergrads engaged in the production of digital projects at Club Proteo, there might be ways that CLV’s Task Cards could be useful at other sites as well. This might be another example of artifacts that could be shared on a Resources page on the UC Links website…
Final thoughts - Corre La Voz is a dynamic site with highly varied, subtly guided activities that deeply engage the children in their own social and cognitive development. The collaborative work that goes on at every level -- Teachers and university faculty and students, undergraduate mentors, mentors and children, and among the children themselves -- is clearly a sustained, productive, and deeply enjoyed effort for everyone involved.