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Lutheran Settlement House is teaching teens about activism ‘on their own terms, in their own voice’

Lutheran Settlement House teens. April 27, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumPurpose
Some of the teens travel upward of an hour to get there.

To them, the travel time is worth being able to participate in Lutheran Settlement House’s (LSH) after-school program, where it’s safe to express themselves and learn how to be activists in their own lives and communities.

The SAFE (Students Aiming For Excellence) after-school program at LSH provides resources for high school students to achieve their goals, from getting into college to learning about healthy lifestyles and relationships. The program focuses on community service and social justice advocacy through art programming and project-based learning. Students from high schools all over Philadelphia attend.

The teens are currently immersed in a curriculum on women’s rights with a focus on activism, which will culminate in a June 8 community celebration that will feature spoken word pieces, a presentation of the quilt they’ve made — quilting alongside senior citizens became part of this group-directed curriculum so the teens could learn about quilting’s history in tandem with women’s rights movements and slavery — performance pieces and workshops on women’s rights, including one on gender, to share what they’ve learned.

This focus on activism for the after-school program grew out of Merkt’s and some of the teens’ participation in Summer STAR (Students Talking about Relationships) Leadership Academy, a program organized by LSH’s Bilingual Domestic Violence Program. Summer STAR is a six-week program with Work Ready in which high school students are paid minimum wage to learn about the differences between healthy and abusive relationships and work to end teen dating violence through education and advocacy.

Lutheran Settlement House teens activism 3

(Courtesy photo)

The lessons of that program continued into the academic year via the after-school program: After wrapping up the curriculum on intimate partner violence and healthy relationships, the group of teens “democratically decided” over a communal dinner that they wanted to focus on learning about women’s rights, according to Out-of-School-Time Coordinator Sam Merkt.

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Activism “is something that’s already kind of embedded in the way that a lot of students think,” Merkt said, and LSH’s program is “just giving them the resources to actually be able to do the things that they want to do.”

She also emphasized the importance of “giving teens a space” to participate in activism “on their own terms, in their own voice.”

The teens have enjoyed some significant milestones this school year. For one, they produced a zine about intimacy and relationships in partnership with Ulises Bookstore; the zine is now held at the Temple Zine Library. And throughout April, the students have hosted at least two workshops per week on women’s rights conducted by volunteers from University of Pennsylvania and St. Joseph’s University as well as community members.

Lutheran Settlement House teens activism 2

(Courtesy photo)

What have the students learned about activism since participating in the program?

  • “It’s kind of a group thing, and there’s not a right/wrong,” Leah* said. “It’s good to start from an agreeing point and then branch off from that.”
  • Lavonda, a 10th-grader, emphasized being knowledgeable about the topic you’re defending: “In order for you to learn about activism and how to adjust your life around it first you have to learn about the topic you’re talking about,” she said. “You can’t be ignorant to the topic.”
  • “Going outside your comfort zone” is a skill Morgan, a freshman high-schooler, said she learned from the program.
  • “Opening a shelter” is the life goal of Jada,* who is formerly homeless herself. She said she was motivated by LSH’s teen programming to aspire to addressing the problem of homelessness.

The teens’ community event will be on Thursday, June 8, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lutheran Settlement House, 1340 Frankford Ave.. It is free and open to the public.

*Some of the students’ names have been changed.

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