Tulsa Term: Where Street Smarts Meet Book Smarts

Tulsa Term is taking applications for high school students this month (February 2020)

Imagine the city is your classroom. No longer restricted by four walls, you navigate downtown on foot, exploring the community around you. The opportunity to learn expands from the pages of your textbooks to real-world experiences in art galleries, community facilities and architectural landmarks. Interacting with city leaders, business owners and creative entrepreneurs, you think critically about your city and begin to wonder what and how you can contribute.

What sounds like the daydream of a restless teenager anxiously counting the minutes until the school bell rings is actually a reality. Tulsa Term, a new innovative and immersive learning experience, created and supported by Holland Hall in collaboration with Tulsa Public Schools, is an opportunity for high school juniors and seniors to leave the classroom behind and take their education to the streets.

Holland Hall teachers Jane Beckwith and Eder J. Williams McKnight are co-directors of the program, which they also helped develop. Tulsa Term is inspired in part by CITYterm, a New York City-based educational experience that uses the city’s urban core as its classroom.

Williams McKnight taught for a number of years at CITYterm before moving to Tulsa and joining the faculty at Holland Hall. Beckwith first encountered the program when she traveled to New York City in the summer of 2009 through a professional development program for teachers. She returned home from the trip contemplating what she’d learned and how it might fit in to her own classroom.

“It was such an awakening for me,” recalls Beckwith, who was teaching seventh grade at the time. “I kept thinking, why aren’t we out in our own city? Why aren’t we in these places and in these buildings, looking at this architecture and talking to people who experience these things in the real world?”

Eventually, Beckwith, along with two other Holland Hall teachers, developed a curriculum for the school’s seventh graders known as “Downtown Studies.” The program, which began in 2011, takes students downtown to learn about the city firsthand. After Beckwith moved to Holland Hall’s Upper School and Williams McKnight joined the faculty, the two teachers joined forces to create Tulsa Term.

“Tulsa Term is a deeper dive and a more holistic approach to what started in seventh grade,” Beckwith explains.

The program, which is in its second year, is offered for the spring semester and is open to juniors and seniors. Tulsa Term accepts up to 12 students, with a goal of half from Holland Hall and the other half from TPS. This year’s cohort, the second in the new program, includes TPS students from Webster, McLain and Booker T. Washington high schools.

The program is housed downtown in Tulsa’s City Hall, which serves as home base for the students.

“We start within the City because they are doing amazing work, and they’re very welcoming to us,” says Beckwith. “We have classroom space there. We always meet there, and we always end the day there. Sometimes we spend the day working there. But a lot of days, we are all over the place, walking around, talking to people.”

Tulsa Term meets five days a week from 8:30 a.m.-2:45 p.m. Students work on both individual and group projects, earning credits and grades for English, Applied Statistics, History and Science. In addition to Beckwith and Williams McKnight, experts from a variety of disciplines contribute to the students’ educational experience. For example, Dr. Jennifer Clark, a physician and faculty member of the University of Tulsa Institute for Health Care Delivery Sciences, and James Spicer, owner and operator of Green Country Permaculture, will both contribute their expertise this semester.

Tulsa Term concludes with a “Capstone” project, which allows the participants to use their newly acquired knowledge and skills to explore a particular area that interests them.

“The students design their own Capstone,” Beckwith explains. “They get to pick a topic that has been particularly meaningful to them during the semester and also dive into things they are curious about. They get to decide for themselves, using all the skills they’ve practiced.”

According to the Tulsa Term materials, the program’s learning philosophy is “student-centered, place-based, and transdisciplinary” and uses “academic skills and experience to encounter the places and people of Tulsa, face real problems, create solutions, and make a difference in the city.”

Beckwith believes the students themselves, and what each brings to the group, are a large part of the program’s success.

“Watching them run with a concept, or apply it in a way you didn’t expect, or make a connection in a way you hadn’t thought of before is really what it’s all about,” she notes. “Watching each individual student recognize their own capacity for creativity, innovation, and change making and how they define their own intelligence and their own way in the world – it’s a really remarkable thing to witness.”

For more information on Tulsa Term, as well as an application for Spring 2021 (due Feb. 21, 2020), visit www.hollandhall.org.

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

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