Welles Grants Spotlight: Ariana Codjoe ’21 & Arata Fujii ’21

From creating booklets to teaching Harkness, two Lawrentians provided resources to students in the Bronx, NY and Tokyo, Japan, despite new challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

From creating booklets to teaching Harkness, two Lawrentians provided resources to students in the Bronx, NY and Tokyo, Japan, despite new challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ariana Codjoe '21: For her Welles Grant project, Ariana Codjoe ’21 planned on teaching learning strategies to low-income children who struggle academically or have learning disabilities. Recalling her own academic experiences growing up, Codjoe said, “It was unfair that because I had the financial means to support myself in different sorts of learning experiences, I could have an [academic] advantage.” She realized that an uneven playing field exists in the world of education, specifically for students whose parents are unfamiliar with the U.S. education system, noting that it is difficult to know “how to access different opportunities in this country unless one has been in this country.” She planned to visit schools in the Bronx, NY, to help implement these study strategies with students in early middle school and provide extra academic support through one-on-one sessions

The Covid-19 pandemic posed strong obstacles for Codjoe, as she was no longer able to work with the children in person. This change took an effect on her project, as she decided not to gear her strategies solely towards students with learning disabilities.. Codjoe said, “Without being in person, it’s hard to destigmatize learning disabilities. I didn’t want the students to shy away from [the resources] in order to avoid having a learning disability label on them.” She originally planned to talk to specialists to gain a better understanding of learning disabilities and conduct sessions in a private, comfortable setting, where the student did not feel explicitly targeted for their disorder. Unfortunately, the pandemic interfered with her ability to forge these personal connections, but Codjoe still found an alternative way to provide students guidance.

As a substitute for in-person instruction, Codjoe created booklets, which were made accessible to a more general group of students. Considering that many classes are now being held remotely, she included strategies in her booklets that were specifically focused on online learning. She provided tips on retaining attention, working effectively in a potentially disruptive environment, and practicing active learning in more independent settings. Codjoe planned to send these booklets along with a package that contained physical tools, such as extra paper and writing utensils, that would help improve the students’ learning experience at home. She is now working on translating her booklets into Spanish, providing parents the opportunity to be more involved in their children’s schoolwork. Reflecting on her project, she said, “I feel really satisfied. My only concern is that it’s definitely going to be a two-person effort—you have to be somebody who is willing to look at the resources.” Despite the lack of in-person contact, Codjoe successfully turned her obstacles into opportunities, one booklet at a time.

Arata Fujii '21: “Imagine a world where SATs are the only things that matter for college admission,” Arata Fujii ’21 said when describing what the education system in Japan is like. There is a single college entrance exam—no grades, no extracurriculars—that decides where students can go to college, and as a result, students care less about school and more about their afternoon “cram schools,” which are specifically designed to help them ace the entrance exam.

As someone who has experienced this type of learning system prior to high school, Fujii was surprised when he arrived at Lawrenceville and saw the Harkness style of teaching in action. In Japan, classes were primarily taught in the form of lectures and students adopted an exam-based mindset at a very young age. Inspired to challenge this traditional mindset, Fujii decided to bring Harkness to his hometown by pursuing a Welles Grant. “Being at Lawrenceville and being Japanese, I wanted to do something that was unique to my experience and only I could do. That, for me, was bringing Harkness to Japan.”

He originally planned to organize in-person workshops with teachers from different schools, but due to Covid-19 and schools closing, Fujii could not follow through with his plans. Without the physical aspect, he faced many of the challenges Lawrenceville faculty and students were presented with in the spring when trying to implement Harkness remotely. For him, the question became: “How do we strip down to those essential aspects [of Harkness] and push for discussion-based learning, whether [classes are] online or not?”

Fujii decided to shift his focus to the students, especially because they had more time on their hands when school was cancelled. He still worked with teachers remotely but added a new element to his project: teaching other students in Japan how to engage in Harkness and ultimately be comfortable with facilitating discussions on their own. Fujii capitalized on his experiences as a Ropes Course Instructor (RCI) and used RCI activities to encourage students to communicate with each other. He found that they initially struggled to voice their ideas, but “once they got into it, they actually had fun and wanted to do it again, because it was such a unique experience.”

While he intended to share the Harkness method with teachers, his project unexpectedly shifted to a more student-driven initiative. These students are now able to spread Harkness values from a social standpoint, while teachers can help enforce these values at schools by proposing policy changes. Currently, Fujii is expanding his organization, Harkness to Japan, to include more institutions. By building a robust network of schools to explore the Harkness teaching method through his initiative, Fujji aims to challenge the traditional norms currently engrained in the Japanese education system.


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