EHHS Faculty Members Receive Second Grant for Designing Identities Program

Dr. Kristy Pytash (Associate Professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies) and Dr. Lisa Testa (Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies) recently received a second grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation to continue their Designing Identities program with the Summit County Juvenile Detention Facility. Designing Identities is a program focused on creating culturally relevant pedagogies that are interdisciplinary and structured in design-based learning to educate youth within the juvenile justice system. Graduate students in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at Kent State University work together with teachers in the Summit County Detention Facility to lead a three week summer institute, the next institute taking place the summer of 2019.

As part of the Adolescent and Young Adult Education (ADED) program, the MAT program has held a longstanding partnership with the teachers at the Summit County Juvenile Detention Facility. The MAT program is a graduate level program that prepares teacher candidates for initial licensure. The partnership began seven years ago with a writing program implemented by Dr. Pytash and has since evolved into a collaboration that provides professional development opportunities for both MAT students and teachers at the detention facility through embedded coursework and research. Dr. Pytash and Dr. Testa received their first grant for Designing Identities in 2017 from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Soon after, the first summer institute was implemented in 2018. Last year, Dr. Pytash and Dr. Testa received the Directors Award from the Ohio Department of Youth Services, the highest honor given to juvenile court programming.

The first institute was focused on teachers and MAT students creating curriculum that challenged students to examine the City of Akron and to use the lens of a community member in order to find solutions related to social, scientific and cultural issues. The participating youth from the Summit County Detention Facility ranged from ages 11 years old and up, with most students between the ages of 15 and 16.  Each day’s lesson centered on the overarching question: "what could make Akron a great place to live?"  Activities ranged from deconstructing and redesigning City of Akron ‘Welcome’ signs and sculptures, examining the usage of social media by public figures such as Lebron James for professional and philanthropic purposes, and developing plans for the route 59 corridor, a highway dismantled in the 1970s that served as a new public space via the Urban Renewal Project. All in all, the curriculum, as Dr. Kristy Pytash describes, “was [focused] in design-based learning, it was interdisciplinary and we were thinking about students' cultures and identities when building curriculum.”

The new grant will similarly fund professional development for MAT graduate students to collaborate with detention facility teachers on integrating interdisciplinary curriculum, an initiative that truly makes the MAT program at Kent State University unique. The grant will also fund supplies, which in next year’s summer institute will incorporate 3D printing kits from the local, nonprofit Hands for Gratitude, a company focused on 3D printing of prosthetic hands for kids in need. The idea of utilizing Hands for Gratitude will incorporate next year’s theme of service learning into the program. Dr. Kristy Pytash explains the evolving concept for 2019 as moving from an individual perspective to one of giving back:

“For this iteration of the grant, we decided that last summer was very much focused on themselves [the students], and thinking about who they were, and who they were as community members. We decided this year we wanted to take a look at help work and to really help students not just develop themselves [...], but to think about who they are in the broader context of the world and how they can serve other people.”

The Hands for Gratitude prosthetic kits will enable the juvenile youth students to think about the medical needs of individuals in their community and how they can use scientific solutions to give back in meaningful ways.  Students will have the opportunity to learn about the individual that they will make the prosthetic hand for and will be able to correspond through written letters and video. Dr. Kristy Pytash emphasizes the importance of creating a relationship between students so that “they will start to know about the student that they will be building the hand for.”  Students will also be involved in decorating the boxes the individuals will receive their prosthetics in.   

A second layer of this new program will focus on using literature to develop empathy, specifically with the use of drama, improv, and other performance to help slow down ‘moments’ and to think about automatic and underlying reactions of everyday behavior.  While the details are still being developed, the use of drama performance and acting would draw upon social emotional learning and the idea of giving back. As Dr. Lisa Testa explains, “we really want to focus more on social emotional learning and on this idea of giving back and serving others, which can help enlarge your understanding of yourself too. [It’s] still helping them develop their own identity, but it’s through this focus of giving as a lens.”

POSTED: Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 1:04pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 1:05pm
Rebecca Johnson