Students Create Change in Their Lives Through Leadership Experience
Tables set up with potential questions and answers are strewn on the computer lab floor of Rosewood Middle School in central Dallas, Texas. Classrooms are chock full of boom boxes and loud radios, sitting alongside television sets. At our initial meeting in January, organizers of Change Lab Dallas prepare to set up for students.
Changing Our Culture – a program of Change Lab, led by volunteer moderators, nonprofit Growth Accelerator, and teacher educators, with the support of TakePartMedia – aims to give students a platform to ask and answer different questions to get to the heart of their issues and give them access to top expert advisers in a supportive setting. Just a few weeks into the two-year program, approximately 150 ninth- and 10th-grade students – a mix of racial minorities, straight white students, LGBT students, and predominantly low-income African-American students – will be doing just that. (Disclosure: Growth Accelerator, Lead Sponsor of Change Lab, produces First Achiever, PCMag’s top youth achievement program.)
At the students’ first session (that first one!), which is open to the public and preselected by school district guidance counselors, Teach For America Alum and Change Lab Dallas Participant Director Yolanda Crockett holds an open question-and-answer session, followed by presentations from Future Teachers, Change Lab Dallas Educators, and Panelist Lisa Pritchett, who currently teaches science, technology, engineering, and math at Burleson High School.
Dressed in black and white outfit representing tradition they hope will last throughout the program, participants from a variety of school settings – like Yolanda Crockett’s Dallas ISD school in Fort Worth, Texas, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) charter school in Houston, TX, and some private schools in the Dallas area – have gathered to start the curriculum of the year.
One panelist, Annalise Flugnard, Green Planet STEM Teacher at St. David’s Catholic School in Fort Worth, TX, talks about her background, as a military wife and child advocate, and how she had been a reluctant participant in previous meetings but decided to learn more about impactful real-world teaching – all of which are topics that are explored in the first two Change Lab Dallas sessions – with the hope of becoming a facilitator herself.
Another panelist, and Change Lab Dallas Educator Alanna Bellamy, mentions that she hopes to increase her Arabic language curriculum, and says that the beginning of the program has been a “shining opportunity” for students to learn Arabic – a valuable skill – and participate in the English as a Second Language program.
Samuel Hernandez, an alternate this year, impresses with his enthusiasm for the program. “I love this all because of Change Lab, and I feel like I get more out of it because I can say that this program is a really good program,” he says. “We are learning how to change some people’s lives.”
One of several students who chime in, Olivia Camacho, mentions that at their meeting with representatives from the Black Lives Matter Dallas, “we had a really amazing experience where they let us talk to them about how we felt.”
This year, Change Lab Dallas enrollment totals 150 students from seven schools. Each attendee is assigned a mentor and gets two opportunities to meet face-to-face – before school and after – with an advisor as their mentor. Student mentors lead one workshop in two sessions before the Spring Break Break break and spring break break break, giving participating students the opportunity to choose their own events to engage in, including a Problem Solving Exercise and a Rock Star Camp.
Later in the year, participating students will get up to five days of group workshops and additional classes covering psychology, creative writing, storytelling, activism, and poetry. Over the course of two years, Change Lab Dallas will offer more than 100 workshops and classes, and the 300–400 students who attend each session will participate in nearly 500 workshops and classes.
Growth Accelerator is a Dallas-based nonprofit that educates student leaders to lead change in their schools, communities, and the world. Through programming like Change Lab, they aim to provide students with real-world practice, leadership skills, and meaningful experiences to empower students in three core areas: working towards justice, helping people affected by barriers and obstacles, and creating positive change. To learn more about Growth Accelerator and its student-led programs, check out their website.