From Student to Engaged Citizen: The Nashville Project


Through this community engagement project at a young age, students at both OHS and Stratford School can make lasting friendships while learning from each other.

What do you get when you combine two amazing teachers, ten Stanford OHS students, and ten Stratford Middle School students? An exciting community engagement opportunity!

From coat drives, Dine and Dialogues, and now the Student to Engaged Citizen Project, Mrs. Stanford and Dr. Banks have a history of giving back and making a difference at OHS and beyond. It all started with a Continuing Studies course that Mrs. Stanford took, where renowned speakers such as Bill Clinton presented on the issue of education. When asked about the best way to get people involved in the community, Clinton responded, “It all begins in middle school … If you can get students engaged in a community service project in middle school, they’ll be hooked for life.” As a middle school teacher, Mrs. Stanford was inspired to encourage students to pursue community engagement at a young age. “If I see a gap in services or support,” she said, “I need to fill that gap.” Motivated by this initiative, she and Dr. Banks founded the “Student to Engaged Citizen Project.”

With the help of OHS middle school students, seventh-graders from the Stratford School in Nashville, Tennessee are analyzing Out of My Mind by Sharron Draper to prepare for an essay due later this semester; eighth-grade students are creating a virtual museum centered around a particular moment in history. “Given the advanced skill set that our students have acquired at the OHS, Mrs. Stanford and I believe we can use our talents to give back in a meaningful way, particularly during a time when schools are struggling to regain their footing during the pandemic,” says Dr. Banks.

The Stratford School’s student body is composed of 90% African American students and 10% refugees. Most of the student body lives in single-parent homes. The Nashville Project aims to help the most motivated of these students get ahead, while also cultivating a love of learning. “When we talk about improving education, what we really mean is making sure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are provided equal access to education and all the support necessary to succeed,” said Dr. Banks. In an environment where they might not have as many academic opportunities, the Nashville Project attempts to integrate the discussion and learning that takes place at OHS. We believe that the Nashville Project allows us to actively confront and remedy, to some extent, inequities in our educational system in the United States,” said Dr. Banks.

Tutoring will not only benefit the Stratford students. “We wanted to provide our OHS students with the opportunity to engage with another community of students in a different locale.” Dr. Banks tells the Observer that “ultimately, we want our students to become engaged citizens that feel like they have a stake in their respective countries and communities specifically as it pertains to equity in education.”

As for the future of The Student to Engaged Citizen Initiative, Dr. Banks and Mrs. Stanford shared that they “hope that the program will transition to a year-long program and that our students will make lasting friendships with their Nashville partners… Ultimately, we would like to bring other schools into the fold.” The Nashville Project is only the beginning.