Ten local high-schoolers participating in an off-campus experiential learning program this semester have plunged into Tulsa’s past to better understand its present and future.
The second cohort of Tulsa Term, a collaboration between Tulsa Public Schools and Holland Hall, presented the results of their first project at City Hall Tuesday morning. The juniors and seniors are spending their spring semester directly engaging with Tulsa through assignments in which they face real problems within the city and try to create solutions or at least make a difference.
For the past few weeks, the students have split into three groups to investigate the beginnings of Tulsa by looking at the experiences of Native Americans, white settlers and African Americans. They shot their own footage around the city, interviewed residents, analyzed art and historical photography and incorporated their findings into short documentaries that attempt to answer, “How do these historical roots make Tulsa, Tulsa?”
Holland Hall senior Michael Miller and two of his classmates focused on the destruction of Black Wall Street during the Tulsa Race Massacre and how it shaped modern Tulsa. The vision for their documentary largely was influenced by a current Greenwood resident who expressed reluctance about the city’s current promises of racial equity and justice.
“We interviewed him, and he told us that his main point was that Tulsa is made by its history and promises to its people, but how can you have promises today when you haven’t reconciled the broken promises of the past?” Miller said. “That was a big takeaway for me.”
Kurtis Ross, a senior at Central High School, and his team set out to create a film that defined Tulsa by the struggle of its people to overcome and achieve.
As a black teenager growing up in north Tulsa, Ross said the project has been eye-opening as his research helped him understand the sheer success of Black Wall Street and the consequences of its loss in 1921.
“I’ve been to the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Center, and I’ve been to the Greenwood District and everything, but I never got into the nitty-gritty details of those places,” he said. “This has really filled in a lot of gaps and put my community’s history into perspective for me.”
The third group of students set out to paint a picture of the current Tulsa climate with news clips of recent incidents and trends such as the Terence Crutcher shooting, school closures and record-breaking homicides.
The documentary also called back to Mayor G.T. Bynum’s State of the City address in which he noted the life expectancy of north Tulsa residents is 11 years less than that of Tulsans who live in other parts of town.
Booker T. Washington High School senior Lydia Malkemus said the idea was to show where Tulsa is now and then explain how it got here. She wanted to illustrate the resilience of the people who live in the community and those who came before them.
“The people make the city, and the city makes the people,” Malkemus said. “We wouldn’t be anything without the people.”
In addition to the deeper insight into the places, people, policies and events that have shaped their city, she said the project provided invaluable experience about how to research a complicated subject and break it down through visual storytelling.
The Tulsa Term students presented their projects to an audience comprising city of Tulsa representatives, local educators and community leaders.
Among those in attendance were teachers from Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts, that is attempting to implement a program like Tulsa Term.
“This work is a real inspiration,” Phillips Academy educator Andrew Housiaux said. “Tulsa Term is the most collaborative and authentic learning environment we’ve seen in two years of school-based research and visits. It is a powerful inspiration for our efforts to develop the Workshop at Andover, a similar undertaking for our students.”