Student Research for Action

Student Research for Action

From 2003 – 2006, WKCD had the opportunity to help students and teachers nationwide initiate and conduct ambitious student “action research” projects targeting critical education and community issues. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided the financial support for this three-year initiative.

Student Research for Action exemplified a number of WKCD core beliefs—that:

    • Complex problem solving, independent judgment, and teamwork among students and teachers merit a place in every high school's curriculum
    • What happens inside a school's walls should connect to the world outside
    • Young people have the capacity to reflect, analyze, and create new knowledge that can then improve their schools and communities.

Under the initiative, WKCD invited student/teacher generated proposals and awarded grants of up to $4,500 on a competitive basis. To be eligible for consideration, proposals had to:

    • Involve a team of students (minimum of three), supported by two teachers (from different disciplines) and a community partner
    • Target a problem or issue meaningful to the school/community and show promise of having real impact
    • Lead participants through an extended period of research that includes a formulation of the problem, a research design, data collection and analysis, and the creation of a final product(s)
    • Put students in a leadership role, including being the primary authors of the grant proposal
    • Earn students academic credit of some kind
    • Culminate in a public school-community presentation and a plan for next steps.

Over three years, WKCD awarded 49 grants, in amounts ranging from $500 to $4,750, to a total of 52 individual schools in 17 states. The student research teams winning support were largely minority youth, with male and female students participating roughly equally (a triumph, we think). Forty-two of the schools were urban, 7 were rural, and 3 were suburban; the schools came in all shapes and sizes, from large traditional high schools on the cusp of redesign to small charters.

Here you will find descriptions of all 49 winning projects, a collection of final student products, and feature stories about 11 of the projects, including interviews with the educators who guided them.

Grant winners
2005 - 2006
2004 - 2005
2003 - 2004

Exemplary student products

Student-produced trade books
Forty-Cent Tip: Stories of New York City’s Immigrant Workers (Next Generation Press, February 2006)
Perspectives on San Diego Bay: A Field Guide (Next Generation Press, December 2005)

Feature stories about the projects
A Beautiful Brotherhood
Within a baseball’s throw of Boston’s Fenway Park, an ensemble of young men of color stares downs their demons. They discuss sex, racism, fathers, anger, guns, and drug addiction. This is Soul Element, a theater project created by thirteen high school students to address the violence and fatalism that besiege their communities and their peers. They do so by laying themselves bare onstage. (September 2006)

Katrina As a Classroom
In the early sunlight in muggy New Orleans, twenty-three kids from New York City’s Urban Academy don white chemical-protection suits and facemasks. They are doing research in a whole new way: putting their bodies to work in a disaster zone, while also investigating the racial and political landscape that created it. They have a hypothesis: that individuals can—and must—build a better society. (September 2006)

We Are Change
With a video camera to her eye, Alice Giaccone, 18, moves through a buzzing high school hallway at lunchtime. She poses the same question to each person she stops: “What do you think of high school redesign?” Alice, along with seven other “youth mobilizers,” spent the past year documenting what young people want—and don’t want—from their high schools in Austin, TX. (September 2006)

Deaf Students Teach Restaurants to Serve with Respect
At Minnesota North Star Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, a bilingual school with instruction in English and American Sign Language, a group of three student researchers have set their sites on the goal of making restaurants more deaf friendly. Having completed in-depth surveys with deaf customers and with a training guide for restaurant workers on the way, these students aim to make a nation-wide impact with their research. (November 2005)

Student Video Celebrates San Francisco History, Challenges High-Rise Development Plan
"I am going to leave my own impact on this city," says David, a student at the new Build San Francisco Institute. This spring, David and other BSFI students created a full-length video that uncovers critical information about a real estate plan that would eliminate some of the last affordable housing available in San Francisco. (September 2005)

Making a Guide to Their Bay, San Diego Students Explore Deeper Perspectives
"If you wanted to do a similar biodiversity study in the real scientific community, this is how you would do it," says one High Tech High student researcher. In expeditions to sites around the nearby bay, the team of students made close observations—scientific, cartographic, etymological, even poetic and political—that they brought together as a striking and useful field guide called Perspectives of the San Diego Bay (September 2005)

Restoring Hope Where It's All but Gone
Students enrolled in Indianapolis public high schools face hard truths everyday. Indianapolis has the fifth worst graduation rate in the country; only 25 percent of black males earn a high school diploma. Student research teams at all five of the city's high schools have studied the problems and made recommendations, adding their voice to the district's school redesign effort. It has not been easy. (September 2005)

The Power We Need: Students Tackle Childhood Obesity with Science and Teamwork
Taking as their challenge an issue that has troubled the nation's top health experts, a group of Carrabec High School athletes in rural Maine has set out to reverse the trend toward early obesity among their peers. Armed with electronic body composition monitors and an unstoppable drive, these teens gather before sunrise for a weightlifting program that is anything but conventional. (February 2005)

Outside is Our School: Youth Embrace Subsistence Education and Renew Survival for a Yupik Eskimo Community
"Cutting fish, building cabins, cutting wood, checking nets, shooting guns, ice fishing, eel fishing, trapping beaver with a snare, making a snow shelter, skinning moose, skiing, canoeing, gathering berries, starting fires....I think we are learning everything," says 15-year-old Bupsie Kazevnikoff. (September 2004)

Denver Teenagers Take Action for Social Change
"This is the best kind of class, way better than sitting in a chair staring at the ceiling." At Millennium Quest High School in Denver, students studied the impact of a proposed highway expansion through their own inner-city neighborhood and presented alternative proposals. At Skyland Community High School, students weighed the role of personalization in school attendance. (September 2004)

Change Your Mind, Not Your Body: Teens Help Teens Prevent Eating Disorders
It's a familiar scene at any high school: before the 8 a.m. bell rings, a group of girls crowds into the bathroom. They put on mascara, peer into the mirror, adjust their outfits, and talk about how they wish they were skinnier. But at Sehome High School in Bellingham, Washington, a different conversation is taking place (September 2004)

Shout Outs



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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator