By Lara Becker
Seniors from Trenton Central High School and College faculty gathered in the Education Building Room 212 on Friday, Feb. 22 at 10:30 a.m. to share their life experiences and lessons through a group podcast posted on SoundCloud. Six headphones connected into one device allowed for each of the tables to participate in “listening groups,” where the students showcased podcasts about their personal obstacles and achievements.
The “Troublemaker Teach-In” brings to life Carla Shalaby’s 2017 novel, “Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School.”
Shalaby analogizes Trenton students to canaries, who are known to make noise when they sense danger. Students are often labeled “troublemakers” when they talk too much or make too much noise in the classroom. Shalaby believes that people mistake these students for troublemakers when really they just want to be heard.
Special education professors Lauren Shallish and Anne Peel collaborated with TCHS teacher and College alumna Bridget Mcmanus (’13) for the teach-in. To participate in the program, TCHS students signed up to take a “college summit” class, where they worked with Mcmanus on creating their podcasts.
Shalaby also presented at last year’s event, which was arranged in a conference and lecture style. However, this year’s teach-in was designed to be a more interactive, student-run effort.
Ideas for the 2019 event were curated by student mentors, many of whom had graduated from TCHS last year and were dedicated to seeing the project’s growth continue.
Abbey Moor, a senior special education and women’s, gender and sexuality dual major, is one of the mentors and a main coordinator of the event. She explained how this year’s theme, “Mythbusting Motivation,” describes the story behind the students’ narrative podcasts, which focused on how the students overcame societal and personal obstacles in order to achieve successful academic lives.
She discussed how this combined the coordinators’ determination to see the students thrive and the students’ own willingness to share their stories with the world.
Another mentor, Alexa Jones, a senior elementary education and sociology dual major, prepared an introductory presentation about breaking through the preconceived roles that society prescribes for these students, which labels them as people only looking to cause trouble.
“These students have stories to tell, and it’s so important that we listen,” she said.
After the introduction, TCHS students presented their podcasts at each table. At one table, Isentaye presented her podcast about her own experience being the only black girl in her dance studio.
“My story really pinpoints on motivation,” she said. “I came in with the mentality, ‘it doesn’t matter where I came from, it matters where I’m going.’”
TCHS students Gloria and Geraldine were at another table sharing their stories. Gloria discussed how she felt underestimated after moving to the U.S. from Ghana at age 12. Geraldine shared her mother’s dreams of gaining life skills through education and schooling.
Shallish is grateful for the program and the lessons that these students have taught her, as the program’s goal is to change the hearts and minds of the community before they cast stereotypes.
“Trenton students are deeply reflective, insightful, creative and can be in any situation and thrive,” she said. “We didn’t want students to be passive objects, (but have) ownership and agency over their projects.”
As part of Shalaby’s wish for the canaries trapped in a cage, Shallish hopes that instead of succumbing to the obstacles of the world around them, Trenton students will continue to “sing, and sing more loudly.”