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Friday, June 15, 2018

The Northeast Middle School Class of 2026

Watching the students receive their certificates at Northrop.

Last week I watched 175 middle school students cross the Northrop stage. They were the 8th-grade class of Northeast Middle School (NEMS) in Minneapolis, receiving their completion certificates. Over the course of the semester these students had worked with Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies (GWSS) Professor Jigna Desai and GWSS Research Associate Kari Smalkoski and their undergraduate students on a unique project: The Minnesota Youth Story Squad.

Meeting once a week, the undergraduate mentors and Dr. Jigna and Dr. Kari (as they are known to the students) would lead the 8th graders in discussions ranging from social justice to bullying and ultimately led the students in the creation of their own personal digital stories.

During the ceremony at Northrop the students debuted their stories in front of their friends and families. The images ranged from silly memes to carefully hand-drawn illustrations. The videos covered topics from immigration to stereotypes. All were poignant and dynamic.

It was a powerful reminder of the necessity to engage with not only with K-12 partners, but specifically those working in middle school. When universities work with K-12 entities, it is often on either end of the spectrum: before the 3rd grade and during high school. But those middle years are filled with innumerable changes -- physical, emotional, and social -- and are crucial to a student’s ultimate academic and personal success.