Leslie Greenberg’s 8th graders began the year exploring a wide range of social issues and making persuasive presentations to their classmates to determine which issue would be the focus of their service-learning project. After powerful points were made, two topics emerged from their deep classroom discussions: Climate Change and Sexual Assault/Abuse. At this point, one student spoke up and courageously shared her own experience with sexual abuse and described the toll it took on her life. Her classmates understood so much in this moment and the choice was clear. They would spend the coming months learning all they could to help end sexual assault and together find ways to help their classmate heal.
In Ms. Greenberg’s class, learning about social issues always includes a connection to literature. In this case, they read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was also important to learn from experts and local college students who were cared deeply about the issue. Over the next few months they hosted guest speakers from Women in Transition and Temple University Community Collaborative, Youth VOICES. Students learned about consent, healthy relationships, and even took a self-defense workshop.
Classroom discussions included the #metoo movement and why it has been slow to spread in China where many students have cultural ties. They explored song lyrics and compared the original song “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” to the remake with John Legend.
In March, concerns about the spread of COVID closed the school and moved classes online. But these students were committed to continuing the focus on service-learning! With the help of a certified sex educator and the Purposeful Liberating Enjoyable Adolescent Sexuality Education (PLEASE) program from the Mazzoni Center, they were given the opportunity to participate in webinars and materials about: Self-Worth, Implicit Bias, Attraction, Sex & Gender, and Degendering Bodies. The workshops included pre-reading material and a safe space to just talk or ask questions. As the year drew to a close, a few students formed a task force to create a website to raise awareness about sexual assault and share encouraging messages to survivors of abuse.
These students learned so much and found ways of talking openly and honestly about sexuality. As they head into high school and beyond, we know they have resources and knowledge that will serve them well in the years to come. And middle school at McCall will be changed as Ms. Greenberg hopes to find ways of continuing the partnership with Mazzoni Center. In her words “8th graders deserve optional sexual education before they move on to high school!”