Our Need in Deed students’ journey of self-discovery, reflection, research, and action does not stop simply because we cannot be together in physical school buildings. Our new reality has certainly brought many challenges for all of us not the least of whom are our Philadelphia teachers and students. Despite these challenges, many of our Need in Deed classes continue their deep exploration of the social issues they chose earlier in the school year, including hosting community partners.
Community partners are an essential part of Need in Deed’s My Voice process. Community partners are those who have personal or professional experience with the social issues students choose as the focus for their service-learning project.
For example, before quarantine, 6th grade students at John B. Stetson Middle School hosted Max Milkman of CeaseFire PA in their classroom to discuss concerns about murder in the city of Philadelphia. After the visit, the students began dreaming of a trip to Harrisburg to raise concern over violence in Philadelphia. With an in-person trip to Harrisburg now off the table Max returned for an online visit to answer questions and offer support as they creatively redesign their project. The students are now preparing speeches, poetry, and artwork to share via video with lawmakers, and have been invited to participate in a virtual rally against gun violence.
Another group of 5th graders, also studying gun violence hosted community partner, Mark Chilutti from the ThinkFirst Program at Magee Rehabilitation. A victim of gun violence in his 20’s when his jewelry store was robbed, Mark became paralyzed and lost feeling from the chest downwards. His visit game students the opportunity to hear from someone who has suffered from the effects of gun violence and was a powerful reminder of what many Philadelphians face each day.
Two of our classes studying discrimination and racism hosted 6 community partners between them. Our 8th graders studying racism had a visit from college professor, Gerri Scott. Professor Scott is based in Sacramento City, California and spoke with the students about racism in educational institutions.
Our 4th graders studying discrimination learned how to be upstanders when they witness discrimination committed against the LGBTQ+ community. Two of their guests included Kelly Burkhardt and Kelly Doyle, from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Ms. Burkhardt and Ms. Doyle invited three amazing guests –Anthony Hoyt, Deja Lynn Alvarez, and Amber Hikes, all to share their stories. Mr Hoyt, a teacher, shared his story as a victim of a violent homophobic attack, Ms. Alvarez spoke about her work as an activist fighting for immigrants’ rights in Philadelphia, and Ms. Hikes, the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer for the ACLU in NYC, described how her idea–of strengthening the message of inclusion by adding black and brown stripes to the rainbow flag—became a reality.
Amplifying the voices of students and helping them find answers to questions about social issues is more important now than ever before. Need in Deed continues to serve our teachers and students as a bridge to connecting the classroom with the community.