Homeless teach students about history, economy

Posted March 20, 2011

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how Maine students are learning from the homeless.

Students at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, investigated the impact of homelessness. They were challenged to view the eight-week English and social studies project as an expedition.

"It's called expedition learning for a reason," Casco Bay High teacher Susan McRay said. "All of the consequences along the way are real ... but you're committed to this end objective together."

Students interviewed homeless people under instructions to dig beneath the surface and really come to understand the stories of the homeless.

"The relationships become important, and the connections become important," McRay said. "When you offer someone the opportunity to engage in something real and push them and challenge them to do things they never thought they could possibly do, there is nothing more exhilarating."

McRay said the goal was to enable students to see connections between history, current affairs and individuals' lives. 

Students learn from homeless Students learn from homeless

"It has to be compelling, and it has to look at the real world," she said. "This project allowed us to look at the historic piece while at the same time looking at the contemporary economic crisis and then to really make a link with a human being."

Students built a multimedia presentation from their interviews and photographs and shared what they learned to an audience of parents, peers and the subjects of their work.

Student Emma Robinson said her perception of her hometown was changed.

"There's a large homeless population in Portland. It's something you know," she said. "But actually being able to talk to people about it, it's something really different."


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  • BubbaDukeforPresident Mar 21, 2011

    I work with Meet Me At the Bridge in Durham. What I've found from working with the homeless is that most are truly grateful for whatever help they receive. Sure, some have mental problems and many have alcohol or drug dependencies, but the ones that we see week after week are kind and gentle. They do what they think they have to do to survive, but so would we in their circumstances. When you've got a criminal record for possession of a controlled substance, you usually can't find employment. So many of the homeless are trapped because of poor choices that prevent them from working. It's not that they don't want to work.

    The picture of the young man at the top of this article is haunting to me. He's about my son's age. I'm looking at someone's son. I can't imagine my son having to live on the streets - unless he presented some danger to the rest of the family, he would be living with me and together we'd get his life straightened out.

  • Keepin_it_real_in_NC Mar 21, 2011

    What's next, sex offenders teaching about abstinence?