The financial crises, budget cuts and hiring freezes plaguing nearby Los Angeles Unified School District schools have not gone unnoticed by USC.
The recent layoffs and budget cuts have made news on campus, and a district-wide cancellation of summer school this year was enough to spark students into action.
Students in a summer WRIT 340 class heard of LAUSD’s problems and decided something needed to be done. The solution, they concluded, was to create a free online database of educational resources for K-8 students.
The site, www.SOSclassroom.org, was started by 16 USC students taught by professor Mark Marino. It incorporates links sent in by students, parents and educators and provides LAUSD students with an easy way to find learning resources online.
Marino presented the opportunity to the students in the class — a “Writing with Technology” section — on the first day of the summer semester. The students took to the “Save Our Summer” concept immediately.
“He came in one day and said, ‘Hey, there’s this idea I want to run by you guys,’ and a lot of people sounded attracted from the start,” said Matt Schrader, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and the public relations director for the program.
Each of the USC students took on a role, ranging from education liaisons to project managers.
“It helped to give each member in the class a sense of purpose, which is something that creates a great learning environment for them,” Marino said. “Once the site was put up [on July 6], we phased out of it a little bit, but it still remained the common project that was driving the course and really energizing the students.”
The work on the website culminated in a July 24 trip by the USC students to a summer camp at Hancock Park Elementary School. Trojan offensive linemen Kristofer O’Dowd and Martin Coleman — both juniors in Marino’s class — spoke about the importance of learning in unconventional ways and even learning outside of school.
“They were very motivated and attached to this project,” Marino said. “When I talked to LAUSD educators, they were astounded at how quickly these students were able to put together these set of resources.”
The district continues to face challenges, including attempts to restart summer school for 2010, but in the meantime, SOS Classroom will try to complement normal school year curriculum on its site.
“It’s not a cure-all,” said John Newsom, a Los Angeles-based consultant who serves on the SOS classroom advisory board. “But at the same time, it’s an immediate and proactive solution to immediate problems facing us all. From that point of view, the district has been appreciative.”
Marino is teaching three new WRIT 340 classes this semester. But, more than half of his summer students have expressed interest in continuing on with the site, and Marino plans on pitching the idea to his new students in the upcoming week. The following step, he said, would probably be expanding the site to include resources for high school students.
“By no means are we saying that 16 USC students can solve the education process single-handedly,” Marino said. “We got a lot of resources from lots of people and this doesn’t solve the problem, but this is something that will help if people know about it. That’s the most important thing.”