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
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.
Anyone who knows Destiny Cooper knows that she gives her whole heart to her students. Destiny is continuously improving her teaching practice, her students’ academic and social emotional capacities, and her community partnerships. This October, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is recognizing Humanities Amped co-founder Destiny Cooper’s love and dedication with an Angel Award®. Each year the foundation awards nine everyday Louisianians doing extraordinary good for the state’s children. Destiny was chosen from nearly 200 nominees submitted across Louisiana. As an Angel Award recipient, Destiny will receive a $25,000 grant for Humanities Amped.
Destiny has been teaching for 17 years, primarily as a national board certified ELA teacher and instructional specialist at McKinley High School. Destiny has long mentored student teachers and early career teachers. This year, Destiny has been promoted to being a district-wide Humanities Amped Curriculum Coordinator. Destiny’s new position allows Humanities Amped to now work across 5 schools with over 15 educators, impacting over 1,000 students. The new cohort of teachers is called the Amped Educators Network and receives monthly professional development, coaching, and additional supports. Destiny is at the forefront of facilitating teachers and their students in creating classrooms which center community, culture, and relationships to restore life and collective joy to learning.
I am so grateful that our community recognizes and values the hard work and dedication we pour into Humanities Amped. Even though I am the recipient, this honor would not be possible without our many collaborators, contributors, students and their families. Thank you, East Baton Rouge Parish School Systems, for partnering with Humanities Amped to create the innovative and humanized school system that our students and teachers deserve, and thank you to Blue Cross Blue Shield for spotlighting our program's and our students' value. I tell my students all the time that their voice, their education, and their lives matter; thank you for telling them the same by recognizing and funding this work. I can only imagine what we can achieve in partnership with EBRPSS now that we are workng with 14 teachers and five schools with an impact on about 1,000 students! - Destiny Cooper
Join us in celebrating the Amped angel we have among us, who inspires her students, coworkers, and community to live out the Humanities Amped maxim of “transforming ourselves to transform our world."
Learn more about Destiny and the work of Humanities Amped in the video below.
"This class makes me feel like I belong,” states one 11th grade Humanities Amped English Learner. English Learners often feel marginalized in classes where they might not feel they are intentionally welcomed, and a language barrier might make it harder to make friends. The culturally-responsive approach of Humanities Amped centers on student well-being and community building, which makes English Learners feel like part of a classroom family.
English Learners (ELs) feeling welcomed has translated into better academic outcomes: ELs enrolled in the Humanities Amped EL Pilot Program in the 2017-2018 school year experienced a 100% graduation rate in 2018 (compared to a 67% rate for McKinley High seniors overall). The 2018-2019 school year also saw a 100% graduation rate for ELs. One graduating English Learner shared, “I feel like this is one of the few classes that makes me feel ready for college.”
Humanities Amped English Learners appreciate the CPAR (Critical Participatory Action Research) process as a way to improve their English skills. One 10th grader stated, “Our research project helped us to lose the fear of speaking in public.” In addition to gaining confidence in speaking, this year's Humanities Amped English Learners grew in writing. In particular, the 11th graders scored 10 points higher than the district average in writing on the English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT), the state test used to measure growth in the sub categories of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Remarkably, 63% of all Humanities Amped English Learners increased
one level in one or more sub category!
Having capable, highly-trained English Learner staff makes a huge difference for students who need additional support. One ninth grader shared, “When my grades started to lower, teachers noticed. They asked me what was happening. I did not want to talk to anyone because I felt they would judge me. But they talked to me and listened. I realized teachers do not just teach, they also listen when we have problems.” With enough support, English Learners are able to excel in their other classes. At the end of 2018, one out of three ELs at McKinley High were on the McKinley Honor Roll for all of their classes for the fall semester, a significant increase from the previous year's one out of twenty.
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year one student wrote, “My goal for this year of school is [to] have great grades and make my mom proud of me.” The Humanities Amped English Learner Cohort certainly has many accomplishments to be proud of.
Humanities Amped students learn the value of reflection not only through practicing it themselves but by seeing their instructors and leaders model the process. As we reflect on the 5th year of Humanities Amped and look over the reflections our students wrote after this year’s conference, we want to share some key lessons that we saw emerge so that you can be part of this learning community with us.
The "roots” metaphor invoked in the conference title this year pays homage to the late Grace Lee Boggs, a Detroit-based philosopher and community organizer who believed that in living systems, change requires critical connections, a myriad of small-scale actions, and the planting of many seeds. Boggs argued that our current system of education is failing youth in urban centers, where dropout rates are typically 30% and higher. In these circumstances, Boggs believed that education needs to be recreated to “provide children with ongoing opportunities to exercise their resourcefulness to solve real problems for their communities” (2012, p. 137). We see Humanities Amped as a learning community for people who are exploring exactly that kind of democratically-engaged learning.
Here’s what we have learned about “Resilient Roots”:
Rodolfo, an English learner explains, "I will never forget that it was my first presentation in English. When I went to present at the front, I had a great motivation to meet that challenge. Knowing that I have that support from teachers makes me not want to give up. I have a great appreciation for the way they teach us with great dedication and infinite patience."
Natalie writes, “Moments that stood out to me during the conference was how everyone was very serious about their topic. Also how they were able to connect with each other. It was a very emotional conference. It made me learn things about my classmates I didn’t know.”
Brianna says of the process of working collaboratively with a group, “Just witnessing and going through so many problems and different emotions [with my group], at first not really being that close, and now being good friends. I believe this project brought us closer together.”
Lauryn explains why it matters for youth to be positioned as active participants: “Young people need to be the ones [to work on these problems] because people understand and want to change problems that affect them the most. Students know what problems affect them every day. When you give them the tools, they can build.”
Jaden states, “[When our group’s action proposal was mostly turned down] all I felt was a wave of anger and failure. I felt that all the time we spent carefully planning out that entire week was wasted and that it was all for nothing. Then a group member and a close friend of mine told us that we shouldn’t be taken down by this. That we should take advantage of what they gave us and use that one day as much as we could. After she said that, all I could feel was determination to make this limited time work, even if we had to re-work our entire action project. And that’s what we did.”
Kadajaisha adds, “I feel like seeing young people trying to change things about the world inspires adults, because most adults believe that young people don’t care about their community, so seeing a young person make a change is a mindset change for adults.”
Madison says, “Knowing that we thought we wouldn’t finish in time then actually finishing stood out to me. I learned to never doubt yourself. Be yourself, anything you put your mind to you can do it; don’t let anyone tell you different” Carlyle adds, “The legacy I want to leave for future students at McKinley is that anything is possible.”
Jai explains, “The legacy I want to leave for future students at McKinley is to not be afraid to be a leader. You have to step out on faith and believe that you can do it and will do it, because if you don’t have faith that you will accomplish it, no one else will.”
Finally, Alejandra, a 9th grade English Learners explains, "After the conference, I felt proud and happy with myself because just trying to speak English with everyone at the conference was a challenge that I met. Now I know I can do anything and talk to other people in English. I feel like I have more confidence to do so, and that's why I am so proud and happy."
Humanities Amped Restorative Justice Elective led by teachers Destiny Cooper and Sam Biddick
We have always thought about Humanities Amped as a concrete model of possibility for what education can be, a space for teachers, students, and community members to learn together how we can build a world that we truly desire. We are grateful to East Baton Rouge Parish School System for investing in this unapologetically public education with us. We also want to shout out our many incredible partners at Louisiana State University who understand how important it is to not only theorize about it, but to be about it. We’re grateful for the help of the McKinley Alumni Center, Brothers Empowered 2 Teach, Andover Bread Loaf, the Miremont family, the Leavell Haymon family, all of our donors large and small, and the myriad other organizations and individuals who have gone far beyond the call to raise our children with the highest hopes possible.
We close this letter with the vision of Quan’Tyrian, an 11th grade Humanities Amped student, who when asked how we could strengthen our process, responded:
"We can strengthen the process by getting it out there more. I feel like we should put it out there for everybody to see and come with us and make a difference for our generation. If we get this program at every school in Baton Rouge, just to start off, then we could go state to state and bring awareness to EVERYBODY!"
Indeed, we believe that Quan and his many peers are going to be the ones to grow it forward. Thank you for nurturing this kind of possibility as we look toward the future of this program.
Dear Friends of Humanities Amped,
We are excited to share with you the enormous success of our 2019 Conference, “Resilient Roots”! In particular, this year’s conference serves as a concrete example of not only what our students are able to achieve, but how much the Humanities Amped program has grown in just five years: the 2015 conference featured four research and action project presentations by 25 students, and these numbers have increased steadily. This year’s conference consisted of nearly 90 student-created presentations, workshops, and dialogues, and was attended by LSU students and faculty, East Baton Rouge Parish School District faculty, staff, and students, community members, and over 300 McKinley High School students both within and outside of the Humanities Amped program.
Artist and educator Donney Rose delivered the event’s keynote address in which he remarked that “the young people of Humanities Amped [...] through research and social action, dare to challenge the status quo of educational structures to create a more substantive learning experience for themselves and for their peers.” This address was followed by the presentation of several awards to Humanities Amped supporters. Megan Sheehan-Dean received the Bobby Thompson Humble Hero of Social Justice Award for her selfless volunteer support of the program, and Dr. Solimar Otero, director of the LSU Program in Comparative Literature, received the first annual Susan Weinstein Greenhouse Award for cultivating growth and facilitating development to support our student community. Finally, the first annual Kaiya Smith True Blue Senior Action Research Award was given to graduating student Mya Donahue for her excellence in critical research, civic action, and community building.
The conference itself consisted of three themed sessions: Improving Education, Seeking Restorative Justice, and Supportive Healing, each with up to eleven concurrent panels of three team or individual presentations moderated by LSU graduate students and community members. In each presentation, Humanities Amped students (sophomores, juniors, seniors, and English Language Learners) presented personal narrative, academic research and a review of relevant literature, field work, data analysis, and plans for or the results of the implementation of an action project aimed at addressing the problem they had identified and explored. Following each presentation, students fielded audience questions about their work.
Junior team "Orgullo" (Hector Alvarez, D'Quarius Robertson, Jayla Morgan, Chavaria Price) and mentor SK Groll following student presentation "Making the LGBTQ+ Community Feel Safe"
Junior team "Positive Panthers" (Rochelle Cornelius, Kevin Brown, Kenderick Marshall, Jerranie Gray, and Kennedi Davis) present "Building Better Relationships Between Teachers and Students at McKinley."
In reflecting on her conference experience, Humanities Amped studentMakaylen explained, “Before I got in [Humanities] Amped I would have never seen myself doing something like this. I can honestly say it has built my confidence to another level. I feel like I can take on any challenge that’s given my way.” All in all, this opportunity for Humanities Amped students to share their work with each other and the community in a professional and public space reflects the program’s goal of being a concrete model of possibility for what students are capable of and what education can be: a space for teachers, students, and community members to learn together how we can build a world that we truly desire. We are so grateful to our numerous volunteers, to East Baton Rouge Parish School System for investing in this unapologetically public education with us, our LSU support, our donors, our partners, and those who attended the conference. Thank you for growing this program with us!