Students spotlight homelessness and learn about local needs

“Our students strive to accomplish great things with minimal resources,” said Jennifer West, computer and career explorations teacher at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio. To bolster those resources, during the past academic year West applied for, and was awarded, an Ohio STEM Learning Network STEM Classroom Grant.

Money from the grant helped the school’s student Media Team purchase equipment to film a video shedding light on local homelessness. The video, called “O-H-I-KNOW Homelessness Matters!” sought to raise awareness about homelessness in and around the Jackson, OH area. All students at the school watched the video and it was posted to the Jackson County Homelessness Committee Facebook page. The filming and creation of the video provided the student Media Team with experience in planning, researching, and producing short videos about important local issues.

In total, the OSLN STEM Classroom Grant program awarded $687,500 to 151 Ohio classrooms in public and private K-12 schools to fund sustainable STEM learning projects. For details on the Jackson Middle School video project and the students who filmed it, we contacted West:

Q: Tell us a bit about your school, the students it serves and the community where it is located.

Jennifer West headshot

A: Jackson City Schools is a rural Appalachian district in southeastern Ohio’s Jackson County. Jackson Middle School serves a population of 554 students. Of that, we have 45% on free and reduced lunch. Our students strive to accomplish great things with minimal resources.

Q: Now tell us about the group that made the video.

A: The Jackson Middle School extracurricular Media Team consists of 50, sixth- through eighth-grade students. Most of those students took a primary role in the creation of this video. These students come to school early, work during their lunch and continue after school to learn new skills, design projects and complete tasks.

Q: How did the students and you decide on the topic of homelessness and presenting it through a video?

A: The Media Team members looked at available resources and examined the needs in our community and combined that with some projects we’ve completed in the past (Veterans Day videos).

Q: How did funding from the OSLN grant help with this project? Did you have any other assistance from other agencies/experts outside of school in making the video?

A: The Media Team consistently finds itself lacking in equipment to complete projects in a timely manner and serve our school community. We felt this was a great opportunity to build resources and relationships between our school and community. Funding from the OSLN grant allowed us to purchase additional equipment for this video and future projects.

The director of the Jackson County Homelessness Committee (JCHC) was a tremendous help and provided us with the knowledge and statistics needed to create our video.

Q: How did the students research the topic of homelessness?

A: Our lead team members researched and watched videos addressing homelessness. This helped us understand the tone and message appropriate for this particular topic. The information provided by the JCHC was reviewed, and the team members pulled together parts that touched their hearts. Retelling the story of those in need, gaining empathy from the public, was the focus.

Q: What all was involved in the actual filming and production of the video?

A: Media Team members were assigned parts based on interests and strengths. The following positions were filled: executive producer, director of photography, lead editing director, casting director, photographers, cast members, film crew, poster design, logo design and data.

There were multiple students in each position due to varying schedules, prior commitments and various other Media Team activities taking place simultaneously. These students created a script, assigned parts, located the best film and photography sites, recorded the parts, re-recorded parts as necessary, edited the clips, created the video, added music and finally published the video.

Q: Where has the video been shown?

A: The video was shown to every student at Jackson Middle School, released on the school’s Facebook page and shared on the Jackson County Homelessness Committee Facebook page. A write up was also published in the JCHC newsletter.

Q: What has been the educational/emotional impact of this project on your students?

A: All Jackson Middle School students were provided with a questionnaire prior to watching the “O-H-I-KNOW Homelessness Matters!” video and then again afterward. The survey involved questions regarding awareness, prevention, statistics and available resources on homelessness in Jackson County. Insights into the results of these surveys revealed an increased awareness from viewing the video and discussions.

It was obvious the Media Team students were invested and were emotionally involved as they were so excited and proud to participate and share what they produced with their family and friends.

Q: What feedback have you received from the community?

A: The community has reached out with positive feedback thanking me and my students for raising awareness on such an important issue and need in our community.

One community member said, “JMS students in Mrs. West’s classes positively impacting the lives of others! Creative students leading others. Powerful message!”

Another community member said, “Thankful to live in a school district that builds awareness of poverty in our area!”

Q: What have you learned as an educator from this project?

A: This authentic project brought light to homelessness. Many might think that our children see things the way we do, however, so many students had little awareness regarding the homeless population here in Jackson.

Also, as an educator, it is extremely important to build a relationship with organizations that create an enduring impact, invest in our community and highlight an organization that has such a great responsibility to our community. Taking this project to the next level, I would like to focus on a network of organizations to highlight their programs and opportunities of support.

Q: What advice would you have for other STEM educators who might want to pursue an OSLN grant to fund a STEM classroom project?

A: I would encourage other educators to select authentic projects that are relevant to your students, school community and community as a whole. Designing projects that matter and make a difference allow the students to become invested learners. Find something everyone cares about because everyone needs to be all in!

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