Emerson at Bird Street: students become the teachers

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • October 23, 2014

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Students from Gordillo's capstone class.
Students from Gordillo's capstone class.

Communication studies majors are helping at-­risk teens learn how to code websites as a creative way to teach them a potential career skill.

The project, led by senior Isabella Gordillo for her capstone class, includes teaching teenagers at the Bird Street Community Center, which works with under­privileged youth in Dorchester—where the center is based—Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Jamaica Plain. Its programs provide classes and after-school activities ranging from dance and fashion design classes to board games and sports clinics. 

Gordillo’s team is working with a local tech company, Oomph Inc., to help teach the students how to use WordPress, a free website-creation platform, to code and design their pages.

“We thought that it would be unique—­­it wouldn’t just be regular art,” said Gordillo, a political communication major. “We could teach them graphic art and coding so they could learn how to do websites.”

Gordillo’s communication studies capstone class was split into groups, and each was given a budget to create a potential teaching program at Bird Street. They also had to plan a presentation and pitch their idea to a panel of judges for approval. The department has a history of doing service projects with the center, which offers classes for kids of all ages and, according to its website, fosters educational activities that lead to “lifelong learning.”

“The goal of the project is to foster relationships among students, faculty, and staff of Emerson College with the at-­risk students of the Bird Street Community Center,” Spencer Kimball, Gordillo’s capstone professor, wrote in an email to the Beacon.

In a focus group with the capstone students, Bird Street students said they wanted to learn a skill that would help them market themselves to colleges and employers, according to Abigail Thompson, a senior communication studies major involved in the project. 

The class will create a communal website that any of the Bird Street students can post on. All students will have their own individual pages, which they will be able to update continuously after the course is over.

Students can post whatever they want to their personal pages on the website, as long as it’s appropriate, Gordillo said, which will allow them as much liberty with the project as possible.

Gordillo said she wants this program to teach participants a skill that’s not only relevant for their professional lives, but also interesting.

“I hope that they really just enjoy coding and graphic design,” Gordillo said. “And they take this on their own and they continue with the website after the program is done.”

Thompson said she hopes to instill in them a love for learning.

“My fellow teammates and our entire capstone class are working hard to find these Bird Street students the very best information, highest quality instructors, and most importantly, a safe place to create and work together,” she wrote in an email to the Beacon.