Whitman Teaches the Movement, a community service project started last year, sends Whitman students into local Walla Walla public school classrooms to teach about civil rights. This year students will be teaching between Jan. 22 and Feb. 2, and training for the program occurred this week.
“It’s a really important issue that all of the United States is failing the civil rights test, and so it’s really cool that they are asking college students to go in and teach about the Civil Rights Movement,” said sophomore participant Molly Emmett.
This volunteer program provides Whitman students the opportunity to get into the Walla Walla community and work with a wide variety of younger students. Students can choose to teach in a second grade, fifth grade, seventh grade or eleventh grade classroom in an area public school.
“One of the reasons I like this project so much is that it appeals to a wide variety [of] students––there [are] the students that love working with kids, that want to be teachers, that are passionate about civil rights or history or that are just always looking for a way to get involved in the community,” said sophomore Sophie Schouboe, this year’s head of the project, in an email. “Anyone can participate and get something out of the project if they want to. It’s not restricted to a certain group or really to people with any particular skill set, plus it’s not a huge time commitment but it really makes you feel like you have accomplished something.”
The program appeals to students with various backgrounds and goals.
“As of right now, my career goal is to be a high school teacher, so I thought this would be a really great chance to go into a classroom and see if this was something that I wanted to pursue,” said Emmett.
Students are trained before going into the classrooms to present the material in a way that is appropriate for the age group as well as how to get kids thinking critically about the issues that are being presented to them, such as discrimination and race. Training occurred this week, under the direction of Michelle Marsh Garcia from the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Garcia’s prior work includes working with the Anti-Defamation League and the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. In addition, she has done work focusing on programmatic interventions to reduce prejudice, enhance intergroup relations and promote educational equality, according to Schouboe.
“The [training] sessions include facts about the Civil Rights Movement, discussions about what it would have been like to live during this era and articles relevant to each grade level topic that groups can talk about and hopefully be able to integrate into their lesson plan,” said junior Maggie Ayau. “The purpose for these sessions is to better prepare students entering into the classrooms with a more thorough understanding of what they’re teaching.”
Statistics state that educating young students on these issues is vital. Erin Pahlke, assistant professor of psychology at Whitman, has been working closely to study the positive effects that Whitman has through this program. Primarily, she is focusing on how Whitman Teaches the Movement is affecting students at Whitman.
“Despite decades of concern about racial inequalities in the United States, current data suggest that Whites remain consistently advantaged within many domains, including education, income and health,” said Pahlke in an email. “So, for example, in 2007, 75 [percent] of White adults owned a home, compared with only 47 [percent] of Blacks and 50 [percent] of Hispanics (Census Bureau, 2008). College students, then, are entering adulthood in a country with persisting racial/ethnic inequalities.”
Schouboe is looking forward to spreading the word about Whitman Teaches the Movement.
“Our main goal for this year is to make the program more visible and well-known around campus. Hopefully in future years it can expand to more Whitman volunteers and more Walla Walla classrooms,” said Schouboe.