News

Nonprofit ‘Choices’ emphasizes inclusivity, accessibility

U. school curricula creator expands lessons plan that engage students with varied perspectives

By
Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2017

The Choices Program, a nonprofit that develops school curricula with the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, has emphasized increased community outreach and diversity in content in the wake of the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan.

Since 1988, Choices has worked with the Watson Institute to develop affordable lesson plans for teachers. Curricula prepared by Choices has been used in 8,000 schools across the country and 200 schools abroad, according to Choices Director Susan Graseck.

The lessons generally focus on international relations and public policy. A core group of 25 teaching fellows explains the programs to schoolteachers across the world. A central part of the curriculum is Options Role Play, which “helps students engage in different perspectives on a contentious issue — whether it’s an issue in the present, such as immigration, or the past, such as the slave trade in New England,” Graseck said. During these role plays, students take on roles of historical figures — both household names and those who are less known.

“Everybody in this field goes to the big cities” for their market, but Choices looks to connect more with “rural, spread out areas that may have (fewer) resources,” said Director of Professional Development Mimi Stephens.

Of families whose children are learning through the Choices curriculum, Choices estimates that 58 percent have a median annual income between $50,000 and $100,000 and 30 percent are between $25,000 and $50,000. Graseck said.  “But income is only one piece of the picture and we make an effort to be there in all kinds of communities,” Graseck said.

The Curriculum Developers for Choices were awarded a 2016 Excellence Award by Brown for their work in making Choices lessons more inclusive. A new rubric used to evaluate content ensures “a balance of elite and non-elite voices in our lessons” said Program Associate Mackenzie Abernethy, “because we want students to look at these historical events through new lenses of more marginalized groups.”

Units come in the form of published curricula, readings, lesson plans for teachers, online videos, podcasts and more. Topics range from the American Revolution and President Trump’s inaugural address to an upcoming unit on the History of Nigeria.

Each unit costs an average of $40, which is roughly half the price of the industry standard, according to Graseck.

“We’ve wanted this to be so affordable” that teachers could even buy it themselves if their “school(s) won’t buy it,” said Curriculum Development Director Andrew Blackadar.

Over the last four years, sales of Choices program material have “doubled,” as sales following the 9/11 attacks and leading up to the 2016 presidential election have spiked, Graseck said.

Going forward, Choices will continue to help give voices to underrepresented groups of all opinions across the globe using “a system we’ve created that so far, especially using the rubric, has had a real effect on the content that we produce,” said Assistant Director of Curriculum Development Susannah Bechtel.

“The process of working with DIAP didn’t necessarily change us — those are values that we’ve had for a long time,” Blackadar said. “But it helped us take time to think about and become more systematic about inclusivity.”