The 8th grade students of Room 302 at Add B Anderson had Social Studies and English Language Arts with Don Malcolm. From exploring a range of social issues they quickly became focused on the intersection of Racism and Mental Health. Mr. Malcolm found informational texts for students to explore and discuss around these complex issues.
Students studied a recent United Nations Human Rights Commission report outlining the reforms needed in the Global policing system. They read personal narratives of Americans who shared their own hard but honest stories of police abuse during routine traffic stops. Students were struck by the pattern between racial profiling and police interactions specifically. The more they read and learned the more clear their project focus became. Traffic stops were clearly an instance where racism and mental health issues collided. They decided it was exactly what they’d focus on for their civic action project.
Once their project focus was clear the students wanted to hear from a police officer to understand the issue more clearly. Office Baukman, the Community Liaison Office of Philadelphia Police Department’s 18th District was happy to come and share from his personal and professional experience. Students learned about police training for traffic stop protocols. Officer Baukman was candid and could clearly understand how the “trust gap” emerged between officers in uniform and citizens who had first hand or second hand experiences of abusive treatment after minor incidents. Students compared the information and instructions that Officer Baukman shared with what they had read in articles by other police officers, lawyers and Civil Rights activists.
It wasn’t enough to learn “best practices” for how to handle a traffic stop. They wanted to spread awareness. The final weeks of the school year were spent designing a poster to display around the city. Students wanted it to look professional in order to be effective. Two students with particularly strong artistic skills designed the poster–no stock photos here! Mr. Malcolm reached out to a former student, Raheem Furson to pose for the photos they would need. And professional photographer (and former teacher) Leon Funchess took the photos.
Through a partnership with the Police Athletic Association these posters will be on display at a number of City of Philadelphia Recreation Centers, Police Athletic League Centers and YMCAs.
These 8th graders took on complicated issues and analyzed complex texts in order to find a meaningful way to share what they learned. We know they will not forget this deep learning experience and we trust they will go on to find other ways to combine their concerns with their talents to make our city a safer place for all of us.