By Quentin Wodon
Last month, I had the pleasure of serving as an essay judge for a great program that strengthened the writing, research, and presentation skills of hundreds of high school seniors in the Washington D.C. area. The College and Career Senior Challenge, organized by the nonprofit One World Education, is a great example of a nonprofit working collaboratively with a public school district to achieve wonderful results for students. My club is thinking of putting together a global grant to expand this project, and would love the support of additional clubs, so let me explain how our effort works.
The essay competition at the Martin Luther King Library was the culmination of an intensive two-month training program that involved all 2,300 high school seniors in the D.C. school system. The students were coached and led through exercises designed to improve their writing and research skills. Teachers selected two dozen finalists for the competition. These were not necessarily the best students in their schools, but those that had worked the hardest and shown the most improvement. You could feel the energy in the room as the students walked across the stage, one by one, to make their presentations.
The students had exactly two and a half minutes to talk about an issue they care about. They tried to convince two dozen judges of their particular point of view on the issue. The judges listened carefully, and rated presentations on the quality of the student’s argument, the evidence they used to make their argument, the organization of their presentation, and their stage presence.
What’s great about One World Education and similar programs is that they involve the community. The program is implemented in public and charter schools by teachers. But it also relies on volunteers to mentor students, serve as judges, or help wherever needed. Three other members of my club helped, and our club and district provided the scholarships for the winners, with at least one from each participating school.
Such programs are very much needed in Washington, D.C. Although the United States has had one of the world’s most skilled workforces, there are concerns that is slipping. And the District of Columbia continually ranks toward the bottom of national assessments of educational progress. There are many reasons for the weak performance of students in D.C., not least of which is poverty. But programs like this one are sending the message that we can do something to turn this around.
Does the program work? The available data suggest that it does. An overwhelming majority of students reported improvements in terms of their ability to make a claim; provide research to support their claim; present their argument in writing, analyze data, create an outline; create a draft; establish a research plan; and revise their essay. Assessments by university professors of the quality of student writing before and after the program also suggest gains.
The program is innovative in the way it develops student’s research and writing skills. Evaluations of One World Education programs suggest they also improve student self-confidence, and help prepare students for college or career writing.
If you are interested in learning more about the program, or joining forces with our club, contact me at the Rotarian Economist.
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About the author: Quentin Wodon is a lead economist at the World Bank. He holds PhDs in economics and in theology and religious studies, and has taught at universities in Europe and the U.S. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., and is involved in several innovative global grants. He is also author of the Rotarian Economist blog.