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Creating safe spaces for students to learn

Joanne Larson, the Michael W. Scandling professor of education, takes pride in the University of Rochester’s partnership with East High School. As an ethnographer, Larson studies the language literacy power knowledge in urban communities and utilizes this research to better the East High School community.

From the start of East’s Educational Partnership Organization (EPO), managed through the University’s Warner School of Education, she began doing ethnographic research at East, which means she’s there regularly taking notes and conducting interviews — and even teaching high school students as a University professor.

“I’ve had the distinct privilege of co-teaching some high school classes, including 9th grade ELA and a class on hip-hop,” says Larson, “and it’s been the best thing I’ve done in a long time.”

Doing and Being Hip-Hop bookThe story of teaching and learning with a curriculum that was developed and implemented collaboratively with students for her hip-hop class is captured in the book Doing and Being Hip-Hop in School: Best.Class.Ever. Larson coauthored the volume, a book about hip-hop educational scholarship, with Warner School postdoctoral fellow Eleni Duret ‘22W (PhD) and former East Upper School teacher Grant Atkins.

Through her work with East, Larson has helped transform the educational outcomes for East’s scholars and the culture of the school, where the graduation rate has increased from 29 percent to 85 percent. She emphasizes the importance of honesty and trust in building relationships with students and staying for the long haul, even if things get hard. Larson's commitment to partner with schools, and not to seek to "fix them," is an important part of her approach to research partnerships with K-12 schools.

In her classes at the Warner School, she touches on topics like justice, equity, race, and gender identity, and emphasizes the importance to her teaching and curriculum graduate students of building relationships with their students and creating safe spaces for all students to learn and grow, as she has done for East's scholars.