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Riverdale students tackle PSU Honors College coursework

Posted on Jan. 2, 2019

students sit in circle to discuss assigment  

RIVERDALE HIGH SCHOOL – Teacher Laura Keldorf is excited and it shows! After 15 years spent teaching Portland State University’s Western Civilization to high school students, she’s now bringing The Global City to life. This three-trimester PSU Honors College course not only provides a total of 15 college credits, its content more closely aligns to Riverdale’s desire to focus on diversity, awareness and fostering a greater sense of empathy for differences. It’s an opportunity to step away from what Ms. Keldorf calls "a Eurocentric history of privilege and victors" and focus instead on a multicultural, interdisciplinary critique of society as a whole. 

The conceptual, seminar-style curriculum calls upon the fields of urban studies, anthropology, sociology, geography, history, political science and economics. It’s designed to foster curiosity and create scholars by incorporating critical thinking, process writing and the persuasive power of — and differences between — evidence and argument.

While at first students found it difficult to adhere only to the text and avoid using personal anecdotes in their writing and discussions, Ms. Keldorf says it wasn’t long before they were pointing out infractions and productively redirecting peers back to the text at hand. 

To start, students were introduced to social capital and discussed the extent to which civic engagement affects the development and resilience of the global city. As the course unfolds in trimester two, students will explore how the city of the present was shaped by the city of the past. They’ll examine physical landscapes of cities and consider the role policies, such as redlining, play into the intentional segregation of marginalized and disenfranchised populations. 

They’ll also critically assess the format and structure of artistic human expression. Visits to PSU and guest professors are included in the experience. In the final term, Ms. Keldorf says students complete the extensive requirements for their senior exhibitions with an additional focus on identifying the disciplinary methods for each field of their research. 

Throughout the course, lengthy writing assignments develop over several graded drafts, and students are seeing marked improvement — going from a first draft score of 82 to a third draft score of 96 is common. Parent feedback during conferences confirmed that students in this course are thinking and writing like never before, and engaging in global conversations at dinner, during carpools or while shopping for groceries.