Taking Youth-Led Workshops to Students Across PA

PSU is expanding our workshops across PA. We have been meeting with high school students from Reading and Chester, and leading some of PSU’s core workshops. It is our way of getting more students outside Philly to think about organizing, and also a way to build a student network in PA.

Last month, Javier Morris and I led a workshop about young peoples oppression in Reading for students in the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP) summer program. The students were a little shy at first. Later on in the day we found out it was their first day getting to know each other in the summer program. We also found out they were all students from the same huge high school, but the school was so big they hadn’t really talked with each other before, let alone in the context of social struggles.

The students were still very receptive towards the information in the workshop. They talked about ways that young people are excluded from decision making about their own lives, in school and in society. We also talked about how students are separated from each other, and taught to blame other youth for the problems they see in their schools.

We wrapped up the workshop by talking about how we as youth can stand up to oppression. I heard good feedback from the students about the workshop. I know we made an impression because even when the workshop was over and we were eating lunch together, they ended up continuing the conversation from the workshop about what they want to change in their school.

A couple weeks later on June 27, Javier and I led the young peoples oppression workshop again. This time it was for students who are part of the Chester Youth Courts program. Unlike Reading, the students in Chester Youth Courts were not shy– they were the opposite. They were very vocal since got to know each other through their involvement in Youth Courts during the school year. The students in Chester talked about how their involvement in Youth courts was one of the only places they felt they could influence change, but they felt it could use a little more youth led action around the problems students face in their schools.

We focused on teaching them about the ‘spiral of oppression.’ The ‘spiral of oppression’ is a tool we use to explain how poor conditions (for example: underfunding, verbal abuse from terachers, non-engaging curriculum) are the root cause of students acting out, which leads to stereotypes based on the acting out, which then leads to oppressive policies that are justified by those stereotypes. Basically, the ‘spiral of oppression’ is a way to help people find the real root cause of any problem. We pushed the students in the workshop to incorporate what they had learned into their Youth Court program.

This was actually just one of the workshops we have led for the Chester Youth Courts. Members of PSU have been interacting with Chester students since the Spring. In May, PSU alum Khalif Dobson & member Jaileah Gibson led a workshop about Nonviolent Schools. On July 18, two PSU alums, Candace Carter & Zakia Royster, led an Intro to Organizing workshop. Zakia said, “I like facilitating for students who are just learning about organizing. You can see them start to think differently.”

The important thing we learned from our experience leading these workshops was that youth in both cities expressed the same frustrations we have as youth in Philly. We all are fed up with the conditions inside our schools, and the way our local media outlets depict young people as criminals. I’m glad that I helped lead PSU’s expansion and outreach to students in other districts. We will continue to work with these groups to bring more students together to solve the problems that we all share.

By Azeem Hill

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