HSC Students Ramp Up Refugee Awareness

From the New Haven Independent:

Sean Nelson brought his phone out in the middle of class—not because he was texting but because he was updating the Instagram account for his social justice club.

The High School in the Community sophomore is one of several students organizing an awareness campaign for the Syrian refugee crisis through a self-directed project-based project, aligned with the school’s focus on social justice.

With a new set of administrators at the helm of the teacher-run school, building leaders are continuing to prioritize students’ venturing into the community as part of their studies and building skills at their own pace. This year’s new principal or “building leader,” Matt Brown, said he hopes to build on the school’s existing model, instead of changing it. (Click here to read about that process.)

One way of doing that is continuing the tradition of having students suggest community-service projects, and finding teachers to lead them. Hence Nelson’s social justice project, which got going amid world attention on Syrian refugees.

Students pitched ideas for long-term community service projects for two weeks at the start of the school year, said Cari Strand, HSC’s new assistant building leader.

The students got the green light to power up “Students For Social Justice”—technically a “production company” or ProCo—in September, using the foundation of an existing UNICEF club. Nelson and fellow sophomore Laurel Cubelloti were inspired by a Yale UNICEF conference they attended their freshman year.

Every week, a small group of students spanning all ages meets under the supervision of history teacher Daniel Roque to figure out how to make kids care about the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East.

Nelson said his peers see three-minute news segments, but don’t think about the issues deeply beyond that.

This past Friday’s agenda had students create a club logo and email address, connect with existing university community service organizations and come up with a list of facts to share with students over morning announcements. The students each brought out a laptop, grabbed a handful of cheesy snacks, and broke into groups to complete their tasks.

Strand helped Yahnez Jenkins (pictured sitting) draft a letter to send to local colleges: “Dear community members, We are an organization of students of social justice of HSC who are helping the struggling people of the world,” she began.

“What’s your ask?” Strand prompted her.

“Please look down in your heart and soul to give mankind the justice it deserves,” Jenkins continued reading.

“They’ve probably already done that,” Strand said, reminding her she was writing to other justice-minded groups.

Jenkins thought about it. “I was wondering,” she continued, “if there are any events that we can participate in.” Her classmates used their laptops to find e-mail addresses for appropriate groups.

One table over, Cubelloti spearheaded the design for an original logo. “We can’t use a logo that belongs to someone else,” Roque reminded students. He said he plays a limited role in deciding Students For Social Justice’s weekly agenda—as facilitator, he just keeps kids on track.

“We can maybe choose the HSC logo,” he said.

Students decided to merge the HSC scale of justice with an image of four hands spread in a circle. The result, Cubelloti said. represents “unity and peace.”


Article by Aliyya Swaby, published Oct. 15, 2015