Empowered voices: English 101 inspires “How to be. . .” the next generation of leaders
January 24, 2021
The greatest challenge has been to face ourselves and our emotions while alone in quarantine. For English 101 students, the examination of “aloneness” became a semester-long quest to understand a single idea and explore it to its fullest extent.
Being alone comes with self-reflection as well as several additional emotions — some of which are not entirely positive. In a time when people needed to understand their emotions, and needed to know that they are not alone, in July, This American Life and journalist Bim Adewumni released a podcast titled, “How to Be Alone.”
“How to Be Alone” voiced the pain and confusion that people were experiencing during the lockdown of Spring 2020. Putting this painful time into words and releasing it to the world helped and encouraged many people, including English 101 instructor Mary Ellen Newcomb, to realize that maybe, they really aren’t alone.
“The minute I listened to the podcast, I knew Mrs. Newcomb had an amazing idea. Encourage students to explore a single concept throughout the semester,” said English 101 professor Natalie Rebetsky.
Having their unspoken feelings and struggles put into words inspired Rebetsky and Newcomb to recreate the traditional English 101 plan and have students write research essays that worked toward work creating their own culminating podcast.
“I enjoy listening to podcasts when I don’t have a book to read, and This American Life is always good. I literally chose an episode at random and it happened to be ‘How to Be Alone.’ As I listened, I got a spark of an idea to use something like it for the fall semester,” said Newcomb.
That spark of inspiration turned into a flame as Newcomb dove into her own research of the podcast and how it could relate to the students.
“I began by writing down objectives I thought this project would accomplish, and I was very satisfied that it covered our curriculum and so much more. I thought a podcast was a 21st century final product and would be more interesting than a final paper. And I believed students could benefit from digging into multiple aspects of a single topic. After all, that’s what a college class is meant to do, isn’t it?” said Newcomb.
Newcomb and Rebetsky redesigned the English 101 plan to have the students work on an annotated bibliography and several essays about one topic. Each essay had a different rhetorical focus, and the content could stand alone, but then the final project combined that content into something unique. The students used parts of these essays into one final podcast that resembled the This American Life model, Bim Adewunmi’s “How to Be Alone.”
Later, they realized it should be titled This Linganore Life.
These topics include How to be “angry,” “confident,” “forgiving,” “anti-racist,” “rebellious,” “zealous,” and more. There were about 40 choices, and students had to research and commit to one theme for the entire semester.
Senior Gabby Thompson chose the topic, “How to Be an Explorer.” Although this topic was challenging, Thompson was surprised about how many different ways one topic can be expanded. She researched how the early explorers were also conquerors. Then she took an entirely different focus and examined the importance of exploration in early learning.
“I definitely enjoyed the podcast project because it pushed me to research every aspect of one word. I was able to identify so many different aspects of just this one topic that I wouldn’t usually think of. It was challenging at times to think outside of the box and find new sources and ideas, but overall I genuinely loved learning about different ideas that all related in a way. I guess I really became the explorer,” said Thompson.
Not only did this project connect different ideas to each other, but it also connected the students with their words. Senior Maya Apau chose to research the term, “anti-racist,” and, although this was a school project, Apau’s research extended outside of the classroom.
“When looking at the list of words, anti-racism drew my attention first. With everything that happened over quarantine with the BLM movement and racial disparities, I was eager to focus on this topic. I think that being in the African American Culture Club (AACC) these past four years has drawn my attention to be more and more aware of culture and race. So, when researching [for English 101], I was able to learn so much. We don’t really learn these things in school, so when I went back and found out the roots of history, issues with mass incarceration and more, it was truly eye opening,” said Apau.
Apau’s research embodies how writing can amplify a student’s voice. Although Apau had prior knowledge of racial struggles in the United States, this project increased her understanding of what it means to be “anti-racist.”
In addition to empowering students’ voices, Rebetsky and Newcomb expected their students to use WeVideo, a video editing software.
Patrick Crockett explored the word rebellious, and when it was time to put the podcast together, Crockett was surprised with how easy the software was to navigate and use.
“Using WeVideo was a lot easier than I had expected. In most [softwares] there’s a struggle with putting everything together and making it sound just the way you imagined it, but WeVideo definitely made it easy,” said Crockett.
Crockett’s podcast did come out just the way he wanted it to, and with the help of WeVideo, he was able to express his own perspective.
“Now, more than ever, I believe it’s important for people to see controversial matters from a variety of angles, and I feel like my podcast does that. I value the experience of others and their opinions, especially when they’ve lived in the height of racial injustice. I believe the ideas from my podcast, ‘How to Be Rebellious,’ are in strong relation to the values I hold the highest,” said Crockett.
Elizabeth Rajnik will be taking English 101 in the spring semester and is excited to explore a topic and find her own passionate voice. She has already heard some of the This Linganore Life projects.
“I’m really excited to take English 101. I think the course will be both challenging and eye opening. It will provide insight on a college level experience, as well as it will give me a platform to voice my opinion on a given topic. I think our society desperately needs young people speaking out and using their voices. English 101 gives students a great opportunity to do just that,” said Rajnik.
One of the most challenging parts of the final podcast is that the students had to create a unique persona to voice the podcast. Thompson decided to voice her podcast as Sofia Cabot.
“My persona was Sofia Cabot, a descendant of the famous explorer John Cabot. I really related to her because she was interested in exploring many different aspects of the world, as am I. She was also interested in learning about her Italian ancestry and how she connects to it, and I am very interested in learning more about my Irish and German ancestry,” said Thompson.
Hearing her students create a voice that channels their own personal reflections proved to Rebetsky that this course had a significant impact on them.
“Originally, we set the time limit for the podcast to 10 minutes. Then everyone began emailing and asking if the podcast could be longer. When I did the math, I realized I had set myself up for 12+ hours of listening. It was the most rewarding experience to hear student voices transformed into experts,” said Rebetsky.
English 101 is a challenging dual enrollment course, but it is proving to be so much more than a class for many students. Education can do more than just relay knowledge: it can inspire and empower the future leaders of the United States.
“How to be Compassionate:” Bolger reaches peers using the voice of a nun and healthcare worker
“I genuinely felt with the more I explored the word, the more of a compassionate person I became.”
“Hi and welcome to This Linganore Life, Episode 2003,” said EN101 student Leah Bolger. “I’m your host, Sister Edith Davis.”
Leah Bolger, constructed her EN101 Project on the theme of compassion.
Dual Enrollment teachers, Natalie Rebetsky and Mary Ellen Newcomb assigned their classes this project in order to encourage students to ‘use unspoken feelings and words’ to research a single concept for an entire semester.
“I chose the word compassionate, because it was a term I wanted to have a better understanding of. The project motivated me to examine the word from different perspectives. I genuinely felt with the more I explored the word, the more of a compassionate person I became,” said Bolger.
After weeks of essays, peer reviews, and discussion boards, Bolger was ready to become her persona of Sister Edith Davis and teach her peers on the concept of compassion.
“From this project, I learned that compassion is a moral that the world needs more of today. With my podcast, I was able to understand where compassion thrives and how to cultivate it in my own life.”
For part of her podcast, Bolger examined the life of Mother Teresa. “After all, she treated the poor, looked after a leproid and fed the homeless,” said Sister Edith Davis (Bolger’s persona).
In an interview with the real Fr. Jesse Bolger, a priest at St. Joseph Fullerton in Perry Hall/Nottingham, Maryland, they broke down compassion in a religious aspect. “Compassion comes from a Latin term, ‘com’ which means ‘we’ and ‘passion’ which means ‘to suffer.’ Therefore, compassion means ‘to suffer with another.’”
“This can be found in the Gospels, in the book of Matthew when it’s shown how they brought the blind and the lame to see Jesus. Part of a Christian baptism is to see others, for them to come as they are, feel their pain and not be indifferent to that,” said Father Bolger.
Leah designed her persona to be Sister Edith Bolger, a Catholic nun who works in the healthcare field.
“I found that healthcare workers, along with religion, were the two most important motivators behind compassion,” said Bolger. “I thought that the image of a nun caring for the sick would help my listeners understand my topic on a more personal and emotional level.”
“Students met and far exceeded my expectations! I am so very happy with the outcome,” said teacher Mary Ellen Newcomb.
“How to Be Anti-Racist”: A student’s journey to empowering her voice
“I wanted people to see the struggles of how even when it’s not noticed, racism can affect the littlest things,” said Apau.
Fear due to the color of your skin should not have to happen in 2020.
When the Black Lives Matter protests erupted in spring of 2020, it was shocking to see just how many Americans were unaware of the injustice that Black individuals face every day.
Class of 2021 member Maya Apau explored what it really means to be anti-racist for her English 101 project. Not only did Apau learn the history of institutional racism, but she also used her podcast as a way to amplify and empower her own voice.
“From this project, I was able to dig deeper [into the origins of racism]. As mentioned in the podcast, oftentimes the curriculum doesn’t expand outside topics of slavery, Rosa Parks, and MLK, so when I had the opportunity to learn more, I took it. The more I learned, the more confident I felt to speak about this topic,” said Apau.
Allowing a student to feel like their voice matters was a goal of English 101 instructors Natalie Rebetsky and Mary Ellen Newcomb.
“At first, I was working to make sure students could research their theme word from many different contemporary angles, expanding their understanding. When the podcast project ended, I was amazed to see how much students had ownership of their theme on a personal level,” said Rebetsky.
For her podcast, Apau took on the persona of Adwoa Serwa, a writer and poet.
“My persona’s name was Jolie, my middle name, but as I dug deeper into the project, I wanted to fully capture ‘How to be Anti-racist’, so I used my Ghanian middle name of Adwoa Serwa. Jolie is French and a more Eurocentric name so it’s ‘easier to pronounce’ over Adwoa Serwa. I wanted people to see the struggles of how even when it’s not noticed, racism can affect the littlest things,” said Apau.
Stereotypically, many assume that people with foreign-sounding names do not speak English. As a result, these individuals experience discrimination in the workforce as they search for jobs.
“I had a neighbor who was highly qualified in a technical field but struggled to find a job. When she changed her Middle Eastern name to an Americanized nickname on her application, suddenly she had interviews,” said Rebetsky. “That section of Maya’s podcast resonated with me and reminded me of my former neighbor’s struggle.”
This struggle is being addressed in life today as an attempt to normalize not assuming someone’s ability based on a trivial idea such as they can not perform because of their name. This can be seen in an Indeed commercial that is still running in January 2021. In this commercial, Chiamaka Nwokeocha describes her difficulties with finding a job because of her name.
Apau directly addresses this issue in her podcast.
“As I said earlier, my name is Adwoa Serwa. Many of the viewers might be confused, as they know my segments and work by the name of Jolie… I was brought up in America, yet very aware of my African, cultural, and Ghanian background. Throughout my childhood, I would attend church and hear my native language of twi. Memorizing the basics, ‘meda wo ase’ (thank you), ‘ɛte sɛn?’ (how are you?), ‘ho yɛ’ (I am fine). I tell you this backstory not to reminisce. I tell you this because the change in my name equates with today’s discussion of How to be Anti-Racist. For many years on end; friends, teachers, co-workers, and peers would butcher my name. Not being able to properly pronounce Adwoa Serwa. Instead of fighting or having the need to constantly correct, I conformed and instead went by my more ‘eurocentric’ name: Jolie. I found it interesting, yet baffling, that… people can look past the weird spellings and figure out to pronounce words such as Worcestershire, Quinoa, Anemone (UH NAM A KNEE), but once they see a person of color with a ‘slightly hard name’, the name becomes more difficult to pronounce,” said Adwoa Serwa, Apau’s persona.
When it came to finally putting the podcast together, Apau exceeded her instructor’s expectations and made her visuals during the podcast change in relation to the topic she is discussing.
“I wanted each act to have its own visual to sort of represent what was being discussed. Obviously it’s a podcast and you can’t see the speaker’s emotions, so I wanted to use the visuals to create a connection not only between the words, but through pictures and music,” said Apau.
Even though many would typically view the podcast as a final assignment, Apau viewed it as a chance to empower her voice and spread awareness.
“[Spreading awareness] is important now more than ever. I mean it’s been forever and people still can’t just learn to look past color and love their neighbors as themselves. I believe that racism is taught, so if there is a way to counteract the racist ideals taught and to instead teach love and kindness, then the world can be a better place. Along with this, protests galore have struck our nation and it’s clear to say that these lessons need to be taught not only to children but to adults!” said Apau.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, so much has been taken away, but it is more important than ever to continue to learn about, be aware of, and empower the fight for racial justice.