National Diversity Education Program: Redondo Beach, CA
Submitted by vkm on Thu, 2007-04-05 18:01.
Redondo Beach, California
Project focus: What can teenagers do to change today's world for the better?
Curriculum: "Democracy in Action: Eighth-Graders Step Up and Take Action"
Participant: Janet Barker, Parras Middle School
Inspired by her experience with the National Diversity Education Program, participant Janet Barker asked her students, "What can you do, as teenagers, to change today's world for the better?" Their answer was Democracy in Action, a challenging, semester-long project in which the eighth-graders picked a cause they were passionate about, and then became advocates on its behalf, creating multi-media public awareness campaigns and finally, a "Convention of Caring" for over 100 underrepresented issues — from caring for sick and dying local children, to providing free music lessons to needy area youth. Parents, media and community leaders were invited to peruse rows of student exhibits featuring dramatic monologues, TV commercials, documentaries, photo galleries, mini concerts, and other creative expressions of democracy.
The remarkable project was a collaborative effort between Barker and her fellow language arts instructors, Jim DeLuca and Gerel Santiago. It began with an intense first quarter investigation of culturally diverse authors who had experienced discrimination and intolerance. Students were then asked to consider members of their own community who needed someone to step up and be their voice. The following quarter, students became advocates for their chosen cause, while applying more than a dozen California Eighth Grade Language Arts Content Standards. Students learned how to ask questions, find answers through research, express their ideas, and persuade the public to consider their findings and to help. They also learned real-world organizing and business strategies, such as how to create an action plan, write a press release, and strategize a media campaign while working as a team. The effort eventually involved the entire campus of 320 students of all abilities and backgrounds.
"The program I developed challenges teenagers to get off their duffs, deflect the pessimists, and try to make the world a better place," says Barker. "Every single student stepped up and asked more of his or herself because they knew they were representing someone else," says Barker. "It empowered students by allowing them to see the connection between what they learned in class and real-world opportunities to positively impact the community – to be the change they hoped to see in the world.
Response to the program was overwhelming. "We had no idea the public would be so responsive. The event was standing room only," said Barker. One reporter told Barker afterwards, "It's been a long time since I've felt this good about what's going on in our nation. These kids have given me hope." Barker's principal called the project "the single best program she had witnessed in education".
Shortly afterwards, the honors began to pour in. Parras Middle School was awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the California State Senate for "outstanding achievement in advocating on behalf of those in need." Barker, Santiago and DeLuca received a Certificate of Recognition from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Barker was named one of the twelve LA County Teachers of the Year, out of a field of 80,000. She was also named one of the 2006 California Women of the Year, by First Lady Maria Shriver.
"Our school has embraced the Democracy in Action program as its own. We are committed to learning from the experience year after year and making this activity our campus' signature piece," Barker added. "We intend to offer it as a model to other schools".
"We hope that students will consider it the pivotal moment when they decided to dedicate their lives to the betterment of humanity. Our nation, our world, needs great leaders. We happen to believe they are here, disguised as middle school eighth-graders," Barker said.
Students take part in Democracy in Action, Parras Middle School
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION Materials
For details of the Democracy in Action Unit Map and Lesson Plans, as well as supplemental materials, click below:
"I launched Democracy In Action to fulfill an obligation to the National Diversity Education Program, but I soon grew to understand that teaching students how to be effective citizens is more than a one-shot dog-and-pony show. Now, diversity education is integrated into every aspect of my teaching. It begins and ends my school year. It is my content standard, and everything else fits into those ideals."
--Janet Barker, Program Participant
"I learned that we can make a difference. We all have different beliefs, thoughts and causes, but together we form a democracy."
--student, Parras Middle School
"Democracy in Action has been a life changing event. I never thought that I would be doing something so important.”