Story and photos by Claire Miller
On the second day of Associate Professor Gholnecsar “Gholdy” Muhammad’s STEM is LIT(ERACIES) summer institute, middle school participants were given a simple task: Create a grocery list and plan a week’s worth of meals using a set of coupons and an imaginary $40 budget.
Some groups had coupons from grocery stores and retail chains offering sales on fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy items; other groups had to deduct money from their budgets to cover transportation costs to retailers with more processed food options.
Students quickly learned about food insecurity in neighborhoods populated by people of color and how food deserts – places where healthy food providers and adequate transportation to those places are scarce – impact Atlanta-area communities.
“I thought this was interesting because we didn’t learn about this in school,” said Mateo Hunter, one of the summer institute participants who will be starting ninth grade at Chamblee High School this fall. “We could use more critical thinking exercises.”
This two-week summer institute for local middle school students represents one component of Muhammad’s federally-funded STEM is LIT(ERCIES) grant, which supports a professional development model she created to improve students’ literacy proficiencies, identity development, intellectualism and criticality. Criticality teaches youth about power, oppression and social justice.
Over the three-year grant period, Muhammad is training 780 secondary school teachers across metro Atlanta to implement her professional development model and improve their literacy instruction in STEM content areas.
For example, she hosted 75 DeKalb County middle school teachers for the Culturally and Historically Responsive Education Summer Institute, a two-day training in the College of Education & Human Development focused on equity-centered teaching and learning.
“Currently, schools use frameworks that focus heavily or only on skill development and teachers often neglect to develop students’ identity development, intellectualism and sociopolitical consciousness or criticality,” Muhammad said. “These were the goals of Black people when I studied the history of education and these same goals need to inform learning standards that govern schools today.”
More information about Muhammad’s professional development model will be available in her forthcoming book, “Cultivating Genius: A Four-Layered Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.”