“We always talk about making students accountable for their own learning, but unless their interests drive the work, they don’t engage with the content.”
Grace Jackson, English Department Chair and teacher an Enloe Magnet High School, exemplifies excellence both in her classroom and throughout the Enloe community. It was her passion for helping others that inspired her to become an educator, to “spend [her] life with others, trying to improve the quality of life for us all.”
Her deep love for Project-Based Learning (PBL) has been the driving force behind her decision to institute the learning model throughout her school. “PBL allows student choice, and that changes everything.” Her latest PBL was created to engage special education students in a project of their choosing. Grace and her colleagues were hopeful that students would feel excited and empowered to create and implement a project that would make a difference on campus.
The project began with a guided tour of Enloe, during which students were challenged to envision how open spaces throughout the school could be improved or used differently. From there, students selected an outdoor area that lacked seating, confident that they could better equip the space as an outdoor learning area, a place for students to hang out, and a better-suited spot for their annual Senior Day celebration.
With this location in mind, students outlined design and construction plans for ten benches that would be placed in the open area. They have taken the lead every step of the way, and the completed project will be unveiled at this year’s Senior Day on May 24th.
Although this project falls outside of the English department, Grace has been heavily involved in ensuring its success. It is not uncommon for her to support and encourage her colleagues and students whenever needed. As a veteran teacher who has found a strong network of support through organizations like WakeEd Partnership, she knows how important it is to assist other teachers in their own learning environment. “I became aware that these students were not being challenged and engaged in ways that they felt were meaningful,” and from her extensive involvement with WakeEd, she knew that PBL was the spark they needed.
Grace has seen first-hand the impact that PBL can have on students. When she first participated in WakeEd’s SummerSTEM program, she facilitated a PBL with her partner to engage their students in public policy. As a result, “one amazing young lady discovered her passion for helping others and shifted her college aspirations towards policy.” Many other students were similarly impacted. Since then, Grace has been a champion for PBL, and this year she will return to SummerSTEM as a coach.
What they didn’t anticipate is how this PBL would bring so many students and staff members together to improve their school community. “Staff who heard about it have been eager to offer ideas about how other content can be connected.” Quickly, it became a school-wide undertaking as other teachers offered support. They even enlisted the AP art students to help decorate the new space! Grace is excited about the cross-disciplinary nature of this work, which “yields tangible and lasting evidence of the process.”
“We have a great community here at Enloe,” Grace shared. Undoubtedly, Grace is a vital member of that thriving community.