High School Initiatives
Spotlighting Justice is a participatory youth collaborative between the Intergroup Dialogue Program and Jenniffer Benedetto’s 10th grade English students at Nottingham High School. Spotlighting Justice grows out of student evaluations of the High School Diversity Institute, in which participants indicated a desire for continued engagement and for more opportunities for action. Begun in September 2011, Spotlighting Justice provides the space for tenth grade students to learn about and use race, gender, and class as lenses for contributing their voices to the discussions of school reform at their high school.
As part of their work with Spotlighting Justice, students are learning dialogic skills while developing an understanding of social issues in their community. During the 2011-12 school year, students created digital stories to animate social justice concerns in the community, such as inadequate school resourcing. Spotlighting Justice students also planned a workshop series open to all high school students at Nottingham H.S., including “Spotlighting Justice Presents: An Evening of Black History Then and Now,” featuring student dance, hip-hop, drumming and poetry performances, and “Spotlighting Justice Presents: Change Your Tone,” a workshop to both teach and practice effective communication through dialogue to help prevent fights in school that arise from miscommunication.
“Raising Our Voices,” the Intergroup Dialogue Program’s High School Diversity Institute, is a collaborative partnership between faculty and teaching staff from Syracuse University’s Intergroup Dialogue Program and two Central New York high school English teachers that began in Spring 2006. The teachers, from a local urban school district and suburban district, co-developed elective courses focused on the rhetoric of race and cultural voices at their respective high schools. These courses developed out of student interest that continues to grow each semester, and they have received state-level recognition for their development and significance. Once a year, students who take these courses come together at Syracuse University for the High School Institute.
Hosting the institute on our campus represents an important opportunity for the Intergroup Dialogue Program to implement the vision of engaged scholarship. We view this as an opportunity to partner with area teachers to further educate students, and promote and support social justice pedagogy and practices on our campus and in our local communities.
The most recent cross-school institute was held on March 31, 2011 in the Schine Student Center and was attended by 86 students. Over ten faculty, administrative staff, and graduate student members from various SU departments – including the Intergroup Dialogue team, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Partnership for Better Education, Cultural Foundations of Education, and Reading and Language Arts – facilitated small cross-school groups of approximately six to eight students. The day began with students sharing personal “I Am From” poems followed by the creation of collective poems, building community and shared identity. Campus faculty and staff members presented to students focusing on the power of poetry to express voice and impact others. In the afternoon, students worked in their groups to create social action proposals. In this way, and others, these students in turn continue to educate others and us.
In an evaluation study, the high school student participants expressed engagement with the institute content, the speakers, and with their fellow students. Offering feedback about their experience at the institute, students offered words including “meaningful,” “exciting,” “wonderful,” “beneficial,” and “enjoyable.” They also indicated an eagerness to attend the institute again. Students, teachers, the IGD team, and our campus partners all noted that the institute is a significant opportunity for local high school students and teachers to work together to take up issues of identity, race, and voice. Working together, the local high school students and teachers, along with the IGD team and campus community members, spent the institute day collectively “Raising our Voices” for school equity and social justice.
For more information on students’ evaluations of the High School Diversity Institute see Lopez, G. E., & Nastasi, A. W. (2012). Writing the divide: High school students crossing urban-suburban contexts, Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(1), 138-158.
This first offering of the high school institute was featured in a news article circulated through the Syracuse University School of Education:
- Snyder, Matthew R. (2006, Spring). Raising our voices. Education Exchange.