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Social justice course teaches State College students to “bridge divides”

The class offers students a way to think critically about activism and make sense of the world.

  • Min Xian/SpotlightPA

 Min Xian / WPSU

(State College) — An inaugural social justice course at the State College Area High School and the Delta Program taught students how to approach complex social issues and find fixes.

About 40 students took the course, which was named “Bridging Divides,” and spent a semester learning about their own identities as well as historically marginalized communities. Students presented their projects Monday evening.

The class offers students a way to think critically about activism and make sense of the world, said Lori McGarry, a social studies teacher at the Delta Program.

“Students have expressed to us that this is the first time they’ve had a class that really feels relevant to what they’re processing outside of the classroom,” McGarry said. “One of the things we tried to do this semester was look deeply at divides in our society and try to understand the historical, legal, political, social roots of issues. So that, as they’re trying to affect change, [they] understand how complex these issues are, but that there’s still a way to make a difference.”

Anja Lee is in the eighth grade and partnered up with senior Anjelica Rubin to design a three-day forum which will address mass incarceration.

“We thought that holding a forum was the best way to include people. And not just to educate people, but to get them talking on the issue. So we raise awareness, but then also people are inspired to raise awareness,” Lee said.

Both Lee and Rubin said the class’s trip to Alabama in October was an inspiration to their project.

Student Mia Case said she has been inspired by lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson.

“I think, in a lot of forums nationwide, they talk about options,” Rubin said. “But we felt really strongly about calling these action steps, because, coming back from Alabama, realizing how much of an impact, how much of a voice we have, we know that it’s not just the options that we have. It’s [that] we have to act on what we’re passionate about.”

Rubin’s father, Steven, was at the presentation and said the class opened the eyes of young students.

“Just judging from the kind of conversations we’ve had with our with our daughter, Anjelica, just seeing how transformed she is, how excited she’s become about this issue, how determined I think she is to kind of get her head around it and try to articulate some of the underlying issues – it’s been, as parents, this has been thrilling to watch,” he said.

Another eighth grader, Mia Case, wrote a paper about the death penalty in Pennsylvania and planned to submit it to Governor Tom Wolf and state legislators. Case said she’s found interests in becoming a lawyer like social justice activist Bryan Stevenson.

“I think the death penalty needs to be abolished, because I think it’s cruel punishment,” Case said. “And I think that we need to be taught about it in school and other topics, like other social justice topics, because I didn’t know about it until this year, and it was really shocking to find out.”

More than 30 student projects also explored issues like food sustainability and LGBTQ rights. McGarry said the class will continue in the spring with a field trip to Charlottesville, Virginia and look at new topics including free speech.

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