The inaugural Humanities Amped Learning Community Summer Institute, attended by nearly 50 participants representing EBRPSS educators from five schools, Amped Community Educators, and high school and middle school youth apprentice leaders, has been running online for the last three weeks. Despite the inherent challenges of distance learning, our learning network members engaged in community building, workshops, and reading and reflection focusing on culturally sustaining pedagogies, restorative justice practices, mind-body wellness, and arts integration. Sessions leaders included Eric Butler from Talking Piece, Toni Bankston from the Baton Rouge Children's Advocacy Center, Lorena Germán from The Multicultural Classroom, and Forward Arts Teaching Artists Desireé Dallagiacomo and Donney Rose. Throughout the institute, planning teams of educators and youth have sought to address the following driving questions:
What are the conditions of student and educator well-being, connectedness, and engagement as civic-minded problem-solvers? How do we center these priorities in online/hybrid learning?
The teams worked collaboratively to develop concrete action plans for the coming school year.
One middle school apprentice leader shared that their biggest take-away from the institute has been “Learning about restorative justice and collective hope.” An EBR teacher also mentioned the notion of collective hope, offering that “Deeper student-teacher collaboration leads to braver, richer learning spaces. Transformative justice requires collective hope, which requires connection, imagination and action.” Another EBR teacher expressed, “I’m not alone. I found out there are others who see the struggle in our classroom and are willing to not only call it out, but be active participants in change at ground zero (the classroom).”
We celebrated the close of this institute with an online forum highlighting the work of four teams. We were joined by special guest Dr. David Stovall, who provided framing for this work as well as a response to each presentation. We invite you to not only view the forum (below), but to visit our Summer Institute webpage to review all of the team plans for the 2020-21 school year!
We are grateful for the support of ReCAST Baton Rouge, the Huey and Angelina Wilson Family Foundation, and the partnership of the Big Buddy Program, the EBRPSS 21st Century Learning Center, and the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. And as always, we are grateful for your support of this work as we continue to engage in what Dr. Shawn Ginwright calls radical imagination, or "our collective dreaming about how things should be" (2016, p. 23). Thank you for engaging in radical imagination with us!
Dear Supporters of Humanities Amped,
We hope that you are finding ways to stay safe and care for yourself and your family during this unusual time, and we want let you know that the Humanities Amped team has been hard at work planning and designing opportunities for our youth to stay connected and academically engaged even as we socially distance. Our commitment to advance transformative learning through human connection, civic engagement, and youth voice matters now more than ever, and we are excited to share with you the ways that we are continuing to honor those values!
Our first step during the week of March 16th was to survey the youth we serve. Based on nearly one hundred responses thus far, we've learned:
We also held several online "listening sessions" to give our community a place to check in and express their needs and ideas in person (well, in virtual person). Based on this information gathering, we are setting up the following responses at this time:
Online Healing Circles for Youth Online “Circle Families” of ten Baton Rouge public school youth and at least two Humanities Amped staff or adult volunteers have begun meeting this week! With the support of certified peer specialist Tonja Myles, these groups will meet twice a week online to provide an outlet for youth to be in community with one another and trusted adults.
Online Arts, Civic Engagement, and College Access Workshop Series
This week we will begin enrolling Baton Rouge public school youth in workshops focusing on civic engagement, college access, and the arts. These workshops are designed collaboratively between youth, adult staff, and Amped Instructional Specialist Destiny Cooper, and, like circles, will meet either once or twice a week online.
Referral to Resources and Crisis Intervention We have begun reaching out to youth who indicated that they have pressing material needs and are helping those youth and their households to find and navigate available resources. We know from our experience working with youth year-round that young people are more likely to disclose needs and ask for help when they are connected in a network of trusting relationships, so we are preparing to support youth as those needs arise. We will also work with community partners to identify gaps in resources that we hear from youth and advocate for those needs to be filled by other community agencies.
As we roll out this programming in response to COVID-19, we will work with a wide network of educators, volunteers, youth, and community partners to be emergent and responsive to the needs of our Humanities Amped youth: our central focus remains ensuring that our students experience connection and engagement in healthy communities that can support their needs for development and well-being.
If you know any young people who would benefit from this engaging new programming, direct them to the registration form on our website (we have a great list of resources there, too). Don’t delay--circle spots are filling up and workshops begin next week!
As always, if you would like to support our work financially, please visit the support page on our website.
Be sure to stay connected by following us on social media, and be on the lookout for our showcase of student work!
Humanities Amped community, you did it! Together we reached and exceeded our fundraising goal, coming in at just over $71,000! We are overwhelmed by your generous support of the Humanities Amped mission to #AmplifyHope in Baton Rouge, and we are so grateful to get to do this work with you!
Because of your investment we will be able to:
Thank you for choosing to amplify hope with us--let's keep hope alive together.
Ms. Harrison's "Unique World Changers" are working together to improve school climate from the inside out! This class of Humanities Amped 8th graders at Westdale Middle School meet weekly to define the values they want their school community to live by, and they're starting with themselves. In the restorative justice circle that Ms. Harrison & Mrs. Cooper led at Westdale on Friday, November 1st, students sat in a circle with a centerpiece in the middle, passed the talking piece around as they opened with a poem entitled "Brave Spaces," and then reflected on the values they've chosen for themselves.
The students were asked to reflect on the values they've been living up to individually and as a group, which one they've been struggling to live up to, and also to imagine what is possible for their larger school community if they live up to their values. A deep conversation ensued about how changing ourselves is always the first step to changing the world. Students spoke honestly about the need to cultivate self-respect and the challenges of striving for achievement while also changing their learning environments together. As one student so eloquently explained, "I say achievement, because if the people around me aren't growing, I can't leave them behind. We've got to do it together!" The last student to speak into the circle summed up the group's mission: "The way that kids are, they follow what everybody else is doing. If we consistently live by these values, we can show everybody a new way to live."
Since these reflections, Ms. Harrison's students have agreed on a purpose statement:
Harrison's Unique World Changers' purpose is to inspire everyone at Westdale to contribute to a positive school culture through our leadership, integrity, and commitment to making a difference.
To meet this goal, the class has identified five action steps as a guide for their work next semester:
1. Demonstrate integrity in classrooms and all other school spaces.
2. Lead circles in 6th grade classrooms first and then 7th followed by 8th grade classrooms.
3. Lead role-playing activities for 8th, 7th, then 6th grade students.
4. Promote and support what is already happening at Westdale.
5. Evaluate how well we are achieving our purpose through these activities; reflect, and adjust.
Through their commitment to developing a positive school culture, Ms. Harrison's Unique World Changers are demonstrating what it means to amplify hope. If you would like to amplify hope along with us during this season of giving, please visit paypal.me/amplifyhope. Our fundraising goal is within reach because of your support!
Before joining Humanities Amped in the 10th grade, Jaden felt disconnected, like her voice didn’t matter, as though she could do very little to make the world a better place. Looking back, she reflects on how she first felt in Humanities Amped: “I thought it was silly. How could I transform the world, when I could barely transform myself?” Now in her senior year of high school, Jaden says, “I’m a lot different now. They taught me that if you want something to change, you have to change it yourself.” Now Jaden works every day to change the world around her. In her Amped English class, she reads articles and writes a personal narrative about invisible disabilities as part of her action-research project. At lunch, she meets with her Amped Dreamkeeper college mentor, a first-generation college student herself, who helps Jaden with college applications. After school, she works as an inaugural member of the Amped Youth Leadership Council, and in her free time, she attends our Fresh Heat teen open mic, where she moved the crowd in November with her poem about preventing youth suicide. At seventeen, Jaden is connected, hopeful, and confident that her voice matters. “Humanities Amped taught me to transform the world,” Jaden explains. “I did. I still am. And after everything that I’ve learned, I will never stop.”
Can you imagine what would be possible if every middle and high school student in East Baton Rouge Public Schools felt the way that Jaden does? The mission of Humanities Amped is to amplify human connection, youth voice, and civic engagement in public schools. Now in our sixth year, we train and support a network of 28 Amped Educators, reaching 1,000 students in five high-poverty public middle and high schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. Amped classrooms receive curriculum and coaching geared toward civic engagement and youth well-being along with in-class support from our Humanities Amped staff and volunteers. Students benefit from our Forward Arts poetry workshops & events, Dreamkeepers college access mentorship program, fall & spring conferences showcasing student research and community engagement, and our upcoming Educators Rising after-school academy.
We believe that hope is an investment that multiplies. Recently, Tricia Sanchez generously posed a matching challenge. If we can raise $35,000 by January 31, 2020, she will match your donation dollar for dollar, doubling your investment! Every day, we ask our youth to courageously match all that we invest in them. Thus far, returns on that investment look like a 22% increase in graduation rates for students in Amped classrooms and a 20% increase on state tests for students in Amped classes for two years in a row compared to their peers who are not in Amped classes. Most importantly, they look like youth making their own investment, as Jaden has, in the life-long project of transforming the world around them, as well as challenging themselves to always strive to be better. Please visit paypal.me/amplifyhope or the Support tab on our website to invest in our vision to provide every student with an Amped education. We exist because of your support!
Humanities Amped held two events last month that elevated youth voice, civic engagement, and human connections: the 2019 Fall Student Conference and the inaugural Dreamkeepers College Access Retreat.
This fall, 84% of Humanities Amped high school seniors told us that they feel anxious and uncertain about life after high school. We reached out to BRCC, Southern, and LSU for support and came up with a plan: Dreamkeepers College Access Initiative. With the generous partnership of LSU’s Pre-Scholars Academy, LSU Admissions, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, we brought together Humanities Amped Seniors on November 2nd at the McKinley Alumni Center for a day of workshops, guest speakers, and panelists. Towards the end of the day, seniors were matched with a college student from LSU’s Pre-Scholars Academy, most of whom are first generation college students. These near-peer mentors will meet with Humanities Amped Seniors throughout the year to support them through the college application process. Our ultimate goal is 100% college admissions for the Dreamkeepers.
Former NBA player, McKinley alumnus, and LSU student Tyrus Thomas kicked off the day speaking to students. He told the students that when he was their age he "wanted something like this, something that could not only advance me, but could advance my peers.” Indeed, Tyrus understands that inclusion is a core value framing the Dreamkeepers initiative. We believe that college should not just be accessible for “some people,” but rather for anyone with a dream who is willing to show up and work to achieve that dream.
2019 Fall Conference
On October 24 and 25, Humanities Amped hosted over 500 students at our annual fall student conference. Students and teachers gathered at the LSU Student Union to engage with community change agents, academics, and each other in presentations, workshops, and dialogues connected to youth development, restorative practices, and research-based action projects, all fundamental elements of the Humanities Amped approach.
The first day of the conference, “Amplifying Healing Justice,” featured two guest speakers, Baba Erwin Ifasanmi Thomas, an actor, poet, and restorative practices expert, and Tonja Myles, a trauma-awareness speaker, veteran, peer specialist, and advocate. In addition to opening and closing remarks, Thomas led a session on the anatomy of restorative circles and their potential to build relationships and develop courage. Myles led a workshop “Yes, I Am in My Feelings,” centering self awareness and emotional intelligence, and delivered an empowering message in the plenary session in response to a poem presentation by Donney Rose.
Michael “Quess?” Moore, New Orleans-based poet, educator, actor, playwright, and activist, joined the conference for day two, “Amplifying Research & Action.” His “Turn Up the Volume” workshop focused on using theater to dismantle systemic inequality, using Take ‘Em Down NOLA’s successful work to remove white supremacist monuments as an example. Students attended other presentations by scholar activists on topics ranging from global citizenship to sustainability. Dr. Jose Aviles, LSU Vice President of Enrollment, presented to students about diversity, access, and equity in college, highlighting that college readiness cannot be reduced to a single test score. Additional workshops and dialogues across the two days of the conference were led by volunteer partners from Capital Area Human Services, Sexual Trauma Awareness Response (STAR), Children’s Advocacy Center, 821 Project, Serve Louisiana, Dialogue on Race, Humanities Amped teachers & alumni, Forward Arts staff, graduate students, and community leaders. Through this massive community effort, Humanities Amped students are now ready to begin preparing for the upcoming April 2020 conference, where the presentations will be 100% youth led.
These exciting opportunities are available to our students through the dedication of our partners and supporters. If you would like to join us in amplifying student voice, civic engagement, and human connections, please visit our website's "Get Involved" tab to become a volunteer or the "Support" tab to make a donation.
What's New at Humanities Amped
Since 2014, Humanities Amped has sought ways to humanize learning and amplify possibility within East Baton Rouge public schools. An amped education is one that expands the purposes of school to honor human connectedness; it turns up the volume so that the voices of young people can be heard and respected by our larger community, and ultimately empowers young people to analyze and take action on social issues that affect their lives. Now in our sixth year, we have expanded our reach to amplify learning for over 1,000 students in 50 classrooms at five East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools: McKinley High School, Belaire High School, Broadmoor High School, Westdale Middle School, and Park Forest Middle School.
Many of you are probably wondering how we’ve managed to expand from one to five schools this year. The answer is the Amped Educator’s Network. This network brings together 16 EBRPSS educators with seven Humanities Amped co-teachers (four of whom are PhD students from LSU) to form a professional learning community. The educators meet for monthly professional learning, work together to implement the strategies outlined in the newly published Amplified Classrooms Curriculum, and receive weekly coaching sessions from Humanities Amped co-founder, Destiny Cooper, who is now the HA Instructional Leader for teachers throughout the district. We are so thankful to the visionary leaders at EBRPSS who have made space for this work to happen across the district and at each school.
This new programmatic structure allows us to build stronger community connections and secure resources so that youth in our schools gain access to the opportunities they deserve. Humanities Amped co-founder, Dr. Anna West, now serves Humanities Amped as our Executive Director. In this, role Anna is able to work with our board of directors and staff, including Community Engagement Director, Alex Torres; Forward Arts Poetry Educators Donney Rose and Desiree Dallagiacomo; College Access Coordinator, Diana Aviles; Outreach Coordinator, Emma Gist; and Serve Louisiana Member, Jorissa Hebert, to amplify civic engagement, youth voice, and human connections for young people both inside and outside of classrooms.
In many senses, we are at a new starting line as we work to amplify learning in so many more classrooms, impacting so many more young people and teachers than ever before. Please visit our website to learn more about how to get involved, and to become a monthly donor. We need you to help us keep this vital work alive for Baton Rouge youth, so please stay in touch and grow with us.
What's New at Humanities Amped
Listen in to this great interview with Amped Executive Director Dr. Anna West!
Dear Friends of Forward Arts and Humanities Amped,
In September 2005, a youth poetry program was created that has sustained Baton Rouge for 14 years by creating spaces where the voices and lives of young people matter. Initially, the program was called WordPlay Teen Writing Project, and it was housed at the Big Buddy Program. In 2012, it became Forward Arts, an independent 501(c)(3). Those of you who have been involved over the years with us know that the mission of this work, to foster personal and social transformation through literary arts education and youth development, has never changed.
Photos by Christopher Diaz
While Forward Arts has undergone some significant changes over the last year in the face of funding shortages, we remain dedicated to keeping these valuable programs active for the young people we serve and the community as a whole. Therefore, we’re excited to announce that starting this fall, Humanities Amped, with whom Forward Arts has always shared a common mission and founding leadership, will be the new home for Forward Arts programs.
As part of this transition, you can look forward to:
As we kick off this year, you are invited to join us on October 10th from 4-7 pm at the Forward Arts Poetry Family Reunion, a casual get-together to connect, talk about plans for the coming year, and learn how to stay involved as we continue to work together to shape the future of youth spoken word in Baton Rouge. RSVP above.