Homeless teach students about history, economy

Posted March 20, 2011 11:30 a.m. EDT

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. 

"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."