High Tech High (HTH) is a set of project-based charter schools in San Diego County. My husband teaches 12th grade at the Chula Vista HTH. The schools are innovative and almost entirely teacher led so they spend a lot of time practicing and collaborating to hone their project focus.  This summer, before they started school, teachers at HTH Chula Vista participated in a retreat where they formed teams to design and present a project to advance the mission of an assigned local nonprofit. The goal was to learn about nonprofits with which their students could collaborate and to refamiliarize themselves with the process of designing and implementing a project, which they do (and ask their students to do) over and over again throughout the year.

One team was assigned to the Real Diaper Association. We provided them a set of readings and access to our website for their initial study. The team then conducted interviews with Lori Taylor and myself, attended a local San Diego Real Diaper Circle meeting with me, and visited the local landfill where they learned more about diaper waste.

They presented their “Stop Bumming Around” project plan to other teachers and students, where it was met with great interest from the students.

They focused the project around these essential questions:

  • How do societal pressures shape our lifestyle choices? How can we effectively communicate messages concerning sensitive topics? The team, only one of whom had children, were interested to learn that many parenting decisions are sensitive topics due to societal pressures. Our focus on Nonviolent Communication and our use of it to talk with parents about their diapering practices made a lot of sense in this context. They also saw the usefulness of this style of communication in other situations students might encounter as well.
  • What is the value of oral histories? What is the power of data? Here they were interested in determining what types of information affect various people. Is it more effective to use oral histories to share information about diapering or is hard data more effective?
  • Is new better than old? Many people sell cloth diapers by calling them “modern”, in common with all the “new” and “improved” advertising. Many users, though, often find success with simple, reusable cloth diapers like prefolds or flats, which tend to get marginalized by this marketing tactic. The team found this to be a useful concept to address with their students as they develop their consumer minds.

The project summary reads:

“Students will work with the Real Diaper Association of San Diego to help in their mission of increasing the use of cloth diapers and creating a cultural shift in the image of cloth diapers. Students will collect data for the organization on cloth diaper use and knowledge – qualitative data in the form of oral histories and quantitative data through a detailed survey. Students will research the economic, environmental, and health benefits of using cloth diapers. And they will ultimately investigate the power of effective communication skills, particularly using non-violent communication for discussing sensitive topics. Students will use their research and communication skills in creating a cloth diaper conversion kit to give to expectant parents.”

Cloth Diapers in Hospitals
Overall, it was a fun collaboration that we’re hoping to continue in the spring. In support of this effort, we have also written a grant proposal to cover costs in a larger project to get cloth diapers into hospitals. As demonstrated in a 2003 University of Surrey study (Uzzell, D., & Leach, R.. The implementation and evaluation of cotton nappy provision at east surrey hospital maternity unit), parents are more likely to choose cloth diapers the earlier they are exposed to them. Therefore, parents could benefit by using cloth diapers in the maternity ward and being exposed to them in prenatal and basic baby care classes at hospitals. Watch this space for more information as the projects take off in 2013!

Heather McNamara
Executive Director, Real Diaper Association



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