HILLSBOROUGH, NJ -  Students in Scott Kallens’ sophomore United States History/Honors class did not take a traditional final exam this year.

Instead, the students researched, developed and presented proposals to improve the resources and exhibit offerings at the Stoutsburg African American History Museum and Stoutsburg Cemetery as part of a pilot program.

The museum is located at 189 Hollow Road, Skillman.

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The 65 students in Kallens’s class partnered with the museum’s Board of Directors. The objective of the partnership was for the students to gain real life experience working with a non-profit and the organization to bolster its resources and recognition.

The project began with the museum’s Board of Directors giving a presentation about the museum on April 16. The project gained momentum when students visited the museum for its “soft” opening and met with the Board of Directors on April 30.

The students and Board members spent time discussing the museum’s stumbling blocks, goals, and possible marketing ideas. Following this initial visit, 2 the students organized into groups, conducted research, identified topics of interest, prepared proposals, and developed presentations.

Final project presentations were held on June 1, and the museum Board of Directors and high school administrators were in attendance. Project topics ranged from websites and podcasts, to youth scavenger hunts and Google Expedition virtual trips.

Students were graded on each step of the performance-based learning project in lieu of a final exam. This service learning concept is community collaboration at its finest. The high school students were immersed into a local organization to provide support and service.

The local organization benefited from the students who provided them with viewpoints and ideas that they may not have realized prior. The program enhanced student growth and provided them with the ability to apply what they have learned to a “real world experience” all while advancing the common good in the community.

“I was given a rare and great opportunity to make a difference for the better and give back to my community,” said student Aaron Waller. In addition to his US/honors class, Kallens’ Junior United States History II course has spent the last few months working on social justice projects that identified key challenges facing our town, state, country and the world.

These students also presented their research and proposed ideas to local officials and high school administration on June 1. 

“I wanted to provide my students with an authentic learning experience,” Kallenssaid. “By partnering with the community, my students became problem-solvers with the power to affect positive change. They were highly motivated by this opportunity and I am extremely proud of their efforts.

These two courses and the final projects required these social studies students to take some risks and break out of their comfort zone,” he added. “Presenting ideas to leaders in the field requires a far greater understanding of the material than a final exam is able to provide.”

The idea of a Community Connections course grew out of a similar project that was completed by Kallens’s United States History I Honors course in 2017. Beginning in the fall of 2018, Kallens will teach a semester-long social studies elective course focusing on community service and engaging in hands-on activities throughout the community as a way of making a difference.

“The fact that Hillsborough High School had two sections of students sign-up for this elective the first year it was offered shows the power of Mr. Kallens’ encouragement of active learning and the citizenship of HHS students who want to help our community by taking this course,” said Dr. Cindy Assini, Hillsborough’s District Supervisor of Social Studies and REACH.

Social studies courses are not the only classes at the high school that are piloting this final project concept over a traditional final exam. From English class students researching, developing, and presenting possible high school course additions, to Wood Tech students working as a team to create tables for use in the Hillsborough Township Municipal Courtroom, this program continues to grow, as do the students fortunate enough to participate in this valuable and impactful programming.