Generally, the fervor over the One Book and One Question initiatives dies down as the year progresses. School-wide activities prompting discussion are organized at the beginning of the year and do not seem to have a lasting impact on our community.
This year, the question was meant to help us prepare ourselves for future moral and ethical decisions. It seems ironic that the same year our One Question focused on ethics, our community was once again plagued with thefts and cheating.
Ethics can be easily integrated into a variety of subjects, so teachers could have organically integrated One Question discussion in the classroom multiple times. However, only a few teachers and students actively implemented the One Book and Question initiatives throughout the year. This group was able to integrate the initiatives in their classes, thus keeping them relevant throughout the year. So, what were some of the success stories from the classroom?
The biotechnology classes didn’t need to struggle to find applications for the One Question in their studies. The senior biotechnology students studied the question in relation to human research by not only watching the film “Eggsploitation,” but also by sharing it with other classes. With several groups involved in the discussion, the biotechnology students and teachers were able to unite the community under the One Question.
The relevance of the One Book was not limited to science classes. During the Humanities II field trips, classes taught by AP U.S. History teacher Amanda Hurowitz and English 11 teachers Milde Waterfall and Suzette Henry visited Johns Hopkins hospital to further explore “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Students were even able to meet Ron Lacks, grandson of Henrietta Lacks.
There have been similar successes in previous years. During the 2009-2010 school year, when the One Book was “Three Cups of Tea,” many students organized donations to underprivileged schools through their TA activities. In the same year, SGA organized the first Service Week in response to One Question. Service Week has become a tradition in our school, with many clubs organizing donations and service projects.
Last year, English teacher Emily Orser organized a school-wide discussion of “Brave New World” to facilitate discussion of the One Book. Many eighth period activities, such as TJ Runway, were established through last year’s One Question grants. TJ Runway has been a successful club for two years now.
Although projects are successfully implemented around the school, the majority of teachers and students do not actively focus on the One Question. One of the main ways students are supposed to get involved is through the One Question grants.
Long-term projects are often established through the grants. For example, to promote the 2009-2010 question (“What are the social responsibilities of educated people?”), junior Ji Hun Kim worked through Chemistry Society to start an outreach program at Weyanoke ES. He adapted the program to this year’s question and implemented the project in March. Kim plans to continue the project next year. Similarly, junior Taylor Culman established a Lego League team at Holmes Middle School and plans to work with the team again next year.
These projects are yearlong endeavors, yet students only learn about them at the end of the year. Because of the lack of publicity, the One Question grant projects go unnoticed.
Sophomore Nithin Bala used grant money to set up a website to educate students about ethics (www.ethicsaware.com). His website could have been used to spark discussion of the One Question throughout the school, but less than 100 students participated on the website because it wasn’t adequately publicized.
Fewer than 10 students attended the One Question grant presentation at tjSTAR, and only a small number of students apply for the grants each year. Many of the grants fund year-long outreach programs, but students are only made aware of the grant projects during tjSTAR in June.
The isolated successes of past years should serve as examples for next year. In order to ensure that next year’s One Question doesn’t become irrelevant, students need to take advantage of the grants. The efforts of the few show that the initiatives do have potential, that is, if students and teachers take advantage of the opportunity.
Next year’s question, “How does one balance the pressures of achieving personal academic success with the necessity of recognizing the fleeting nature of life and acting accordingly?” directly addresses our need for a balance between work and play, which gets at the heart of our students’ two main foes: procrastination and time management.
The question addresses issues that directly impact the student body, so next year, students should work on keeping initiatives active. Students can get involved by starting projects through the One Question grants. If the question is more visible throughout the year, our community will be able to actively reflect upon it.
The One Book and One Question initiatives don’t need to disappear into oblivion as they often do. The initiatives remain a great idea, but they are just that unless students and teachers get involved.
(This editorial originally appeared in the June 8, 2012 print edition.)