High School Course Takes Students Out of their Comfort Zone

Published: Jan. 7, 2016 at 5:47 PM CST
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A new social justice course started at Mount Vernon High School January 4, and for two weeks students will dive deep into the subject.

Teacher Leigh Ann Erickson came up with the idea, when she thought back to when she taught in Chicago and Queens, New York. She saw the social injustice first hand. Now she and her co-teacher Sean Voigt want to make sure students in eastern Iowa know how to end it.

“We are all the same in so many ways. There’s brokenness in all of us, and even thought that might look different in one person to another, it’s a shared similarity. It makes us human,” Erickson said.

For two weeks, students will spend six hours a day focusing on four principals that increase the odds of social justice. Get close to people, give and receive hope, get uncomfortable, and change the narrative in your community.

As a lesson on poverty, Thursday students prepared and served a meal at Mission of Hope in Cedar Rapids for those in need.

“It’s great that we get to serve and help, but for my students I want them to know people, and I want them to be known by other people, and to interact with people, and to talk to people, and to love people,” Erickson said. “The people that we serve to have just as much to offer to us, as we do to them.”

She said getting out in the community is changing the outlook in her students.

“They’re starting to see things, and starting to understand things about poverty, about race, about injustice, about our incarceration system, that are unjust things, things that they didn’t know before, things that aren’t taught in school.”

Students in the class said in just three days they’re already noticing a change.

“There’s a lot of amazing people out here. You just sit down and talk to them and they tell you amazing things, and you’re like wow,” Junior Bree Dechant said. “You see people who don’t have much in their lives, and you’re really thankful about everything.”

Senior Maggie Babcock said she’s taking the course for her grandmother.

“Before she passed away was really big into justice and social justice and getting to know people. That was big reason why I took this class, for my grandma, I feel like she would be really proud,” Babcock said. “It’s a very rewarding class just to be able to be out here, cook a meal, and see all of their faces as they come through the line, it’s just a cool experience.”

Students will participate in community service projects like their work at Mission of Hope, but also incorporate reading, film watching, blogging, speakers, and building lending libraries for neighboring communities.

If we don’t know people who are different than us then ultimately we become afraid of people who are different than us,” Erickson said. “That fear that leads to anger that leads to injustice so I wanted to break down those walls, give students experiences they’ve never had before. I really think these are the kinds classes that we need to have in schools, I think students need to be educated in this way, and I’m so thankful to be a part of school that’s willing to do that.”

Students said after the course ends they plan to start a social justice club, so they can continue to improve the community.