Implementation of the Santa Monica Malibu School District’s Social Justice Action Plan is enjoying a seamless transition with staff, students, and board members enthused by results thus far.

“When we talk about 21st-century learning, this is what we’re talking about,” Ralph Mechur enthusiastically said following the presentation. “The research, deep thinking, coming up with conclusions and recommendations– this is it.”

Ethnic studies teacher Sean Arce and assistant superintendent Dr. Jacqueline Mora led the May 17 presentation that updated the Board on it’s Social Justice Action Plan.

The plan is part of SMMUSDs three-pronged approach to achieving “excellence through equity,” including creating a culture of shared accountability, teaching cross-cultural/socio-economic skills, and engaging in constant self-reflection around the issue of equity.

At a previous meeting establishing the program, proposed curriculum intended to foster a “social justice literacy” included teaching students about racial and economic injustice by introducing students to feminist texts, having students express their identities via poetry, and exploring gentrification and its effects on students’ communities.

In their presentation, Arce and More shared results of their “awareness year” thus far, developing “scope and sequence” for the program and a structure that provides an articulation of standards and a transparency “that shows what we’re addressing.”

The action plan for 2017-2018 program implementation sought to engage community stakeholders such as parents, district leaders, principals, students, teachers, and schools.

In its implementation thus far, the program has developed teacher leaders and has been introduced in elementary schools as well as Samohi’s freshman seminar.

Freshman seminar students Nikita Bahadur, Spencer Newman, and Shannon Stewart were on hand to share what they’ve learned through the program.

The students were tasked with a “Civic Action Project” during the semester, asked to conduct the problematization of a research question, perform research and review literature concerning their chosen subject, collecting data, discussing their findings, and providing recommendations.

The students chose a topic that immediately affects their community– gun violence.

They dove deep into gun violence data, finding a current average of one school shooting in America a week, their data-deep-dive leading them to find obscure information such as discovering that the first school shooting took place in 1764.

Students also collected data by surveying peers past and present, asking questions pertaining to school safety: how safe do they currently feel on campus, if increased security would make students feel more at ease, how many students have experienced an active shooter school shut down, and more.

The students analyzed their data of student responses and shared with the board their findings (a high percentage of students felt an anxiety of a shooting occurring at the school, a request for an increased security guard presence would assuage many fears, the students said).

“These students are engaging in grad-level research,” Arce said after the presentation. “These young folks should be lauded. We say students are the future, but this is current emerging leadership.”

Next steps for the program include further developing leaders from preschool to high schools to “let teachers have freedom of implementing and refining,” expanding the program at the elementary and middle school levels, beginning implementation with Malibu high, and developing workshops for families. “We want [parents] to bring their cultural wealth of knowledge and engage with them,” Arce said.

Public sentiment was positive as public speaker Dr. Berenice Onofre said she was excited about the possibilities of the program. “This is exciting, this is for real,” Onofre said. “These students are doing the work I’ve done in grad school. I see them only excelling when they get to higher education.”

Board praise was unanimous, with board member Craig Foster calling the program “relevant, authentic, and meaningful,” in the program’s engagement with students.

Board member Oscar de la Torre was particularly moved by the presentation.

The executive director of the Pico Youth Center said this was a program providing systematic change. “This district approved the standards, now you see it,” de la Torre said. “The outcomes, the young people showing you how relevant it is… As development rolls out, students and teachers will engage. This program will help those who have felt marginalized by our institutions.”