Cristo Rey Boston High School

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The Great Gatsby: An Experience in Building Expertise and Professionalism in Students

Teaching high school students to be critical thinkers is a valuable skill that can help them succeed in school and beyond. Critical thinking enables students to think logically, examine and evaluate evidence, identify assumptions, and analyze arguments. According to Dr. Thomas Ryan, Principal of Cristo Rey Boston, when students successfully integrate these skills, they move from passive consumers of classroom material to content experts.
In the spring and summer of 2022, the CRB faculty and staff collectively worked on an Academic Vision for the 2022-23 school year. The following Academic Vision developed from those brainstorming sessions: Expertise and Professionalism. What does it mean for our students to be professionals in academics? What does it mean for our students to be experts in academics? 
Regarding expertise, it refers to how well students can articulate and apply concepts. Setting up classrooms to successfully teach this skill is done by design. Classrooms need to be safe spaces where students feel comfortable asking questions, expressing ideas, making mistakes, and learning from them. Teachers request that students make real-world connections to their own lives, previously taught concepts, and materials in the lesson plan to practice problem-solving and decision-making. Creating an environment where students can collaborate, share ideas, dissect information, and accept peer feedback is crucial to building critical thinkers. 
Dr. Ryan shared an anecdote recently that illustrates the concept of student expertise. The 10th-grade curriculum includes The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Students in Caitlin Gemma's class have spent weeks analyzing the book, watching the movie, and diving deeply into Fitzgerald’s commentary on social class, inequality, and the American dream.  
An invitation ensued from Boston College High School, a nearby all-boys school, for female students to try out for roles in their upcoming production of the play.  
Dr. Ryan recalled, “I was driving a group of students to tryouts when they started talking about the character Myrtle. They discussed her "vibe" and how they should audition for her. They cited evidence from the book and film. It was a beautiful moment. It was a moment where the school’s Academic Visions became a “lived” vision of expertise where two students were engaging in the traits and actions of the expertise.” He continued, “They examined her motives, discussed whether they agreed with her choices, and compared her actions in the context of a 1920s social commentary to what currently happens in society. I had that exciting moment as an educator when I realized these students had moved to the role of experts.”  
Several students received parts in the production. Deandra Spence successfully auditioned for the role of Myrtle Wilson, one of the pivotal characters in the play, while Destiny Maduro was cast as Mrs. McKee. Alayssa Diaz, Esmeralda Mejia, Leonah Kuteesakwe and Gizely Soares have ensemble roles. Breana Mendes, Kalika Jones, and Fatima Koumbassa are working in the background as makeup and costume support team members.  
Dr. Ryan noted that the opportunity to participate in Boston College High School's theater production was exciting. “It allows students to build on skills gained in the classroom. Students can use drama to connect to the text and insert their unique cultural and lived experiences into their interpretations. It is an additional opportunity to think critically, and we are thrilled by this collaboration with BC High.”