Palo Alto High School student Kevin Ward challenges the stereotype of African-Americans as "gangsters," and says that "smart is the new gangster." The 16-year-old is working to bridge the achievement gap for students of color, through the school's Unity Club and a program called Bridge, connecting students from affluent Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, a neighboring low-income community.
This lesson addresses the following SEL strategies. You can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves.
- Self-awareness: Kevin recognizes he was treated differently from other students at his school. He develops and maintains a strong sense of confidence in who he is and his ability to make a difference.
- Self-management: Kevin channels his efforts towards not only spreading awareness of the injustices he sees but also continues his efforts on projects, such as the Bridge project.
- Social awareness: Kevin recognizes that students, and people in general, are still being treated differently because of, among other factors, their ethnic backgrounds.
- Relationship skills: Kevin works with organizations including the Youth Community Service (YCS), clubs on campus, other schools, as well as his fellow students to spread awareness of and eliminate the achievement gap for students of color.
- Responsible decision-making: Kevin utilizes his voice and ability to teach others about the injustices he sees in order to encourage others to speak up and make a difference as well.
1. Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):
a. Think of someone you know personally, or someone well known, that has spoken up against injustices. Discuss what injustice they fought against, and what they did to change it. Were they successful or to what extent were they able to affect change? (Try to pick someone other than Martin Luther King Jr.)
b. The Merriam-Webster definition of a stereotype is “to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.” Discuss the effect of stereotypes on you and others. What are some stereotypes that have impacted you and others. What are the positive and negative impacts of the different stereotypes?
c. Think of a time when you were affected by an injustice, such as a stereotype. Describe what happened, how you reacted, and how it made you feel.
2. After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt) :
a. Why does Kevin say “we get pushed to the back of the class”? What problem(s) does Kevin see in his community, school and society? What is he doing to make a change and what obstacles does he face?
b. Do you see any similar problem(s) or injustices in your own community, school or society in general? Maybe you see the same issues or challenges that Kevin sees. Pick one that you believe you can affect change on and discuss how you plan on doing so. (This can be done as a class, in small groups or individually.)
c. Kevin discusses several issues he sees facing students and people of color. He says, “We’re being taught that who we are is not good enough. How many Asian-Americans have you seen who have changed their names just to fit in? Have you guys ever been in a position where you feel like you’ve had to compromise your culture and your identity to fit in?” As a class, discuss your own thoughts or answers to these questions and whether they apply to you or maybe others that you know.
d. Why does Kevin say, “Smart is the new gangster”?
e. What does Kevin do to make change in his school and community?
Discuss what an achievement gap is, particularly with regards to how it is mentioned in the video. Do you believe this achievement gap for people of color exists? If so, to what extent in life does it continue (i.e. in other words, do you think it stops after middle school, high school, ever?) and what are the effects on the various ethnic groups (i.e. grades in school, whether students that go to college, etc.)?
1. Have students identify ways to ensure success in school for students of all backgrounds. After they identify ideas, have them write letters to different constituencies. Have them write letters to civic leaders about what is needed at a systemic level. Then have them write to their teachers with suggestions for ways to improve in the classroom. Also, have them write motivational letters to younger peers. They can also address a city council meeting, a faculty meeting, and/or a class of younger students.
2. What programs like Bridge exist in your community? Have students research opportunities for students to improve their achievement in the school and community? Have students talk about what they think is needed to ensure equity for all students. Develop an action plan.
3. Discuss how older students can motivate younger students to be successful in school. Develop an action plan.
This lesson is part of the Not In Our School Video Action Kit, a comprehensive toolkit featuring films, lessons, and resources designed to motivate students to speak out against bullying, and create new ways to make their schools safe for everyone.