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Understanding Social Justice

Hannah Bahn
Mission Principles: Connection to Local & Global Communities, Understanding of Social Justice & Global Systems

History teacher Hannah Bahn shares an important part of the 9th-Grade Service Learning experience.

Social justice, or the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities, is an important concept, yet, it is too often left out of school curricula. Students learn how to address symptoms of inequality, like poverty, through fundraising and drives, but not how to combat inequality at its root.

At Pacific Ridge, our Service Learning program helps students understand the power of social action as a component of ethical responsibility and an exciting addition to this year’s Service Learning program is giving our 9th graders specific training in this area.

The new 9th-grade Service Learning program includes four sections: Design Thinking, Making a Difference, Leadership, and Social Justice. It is designed to provide a meaningful and supportive transition between the proscribed Middle School service experience and the more self-directed Upper School experience.

Students in the social justice rotation learn about wealth and racial inequality in America and consider questions such as, “Why are poor people poor? Is poverty solely a function of individual choices? Or do America’s institutions, organizations, governments, and social networks advantage some members and disadvantage or marginalize others?”

After having thought about and discussed these questions for six weeks, ninth grade students had the opportunity to learn from individuals who grapple with these questions, concepts, and realities on a daily basis. On January 6th, participants in a “Social Justice in Action” panel showed Pacific Ridge students how real people address inequality at its root.

The panel was composed of five individuals: Andrea Gaspar, a youth organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union; Sarina Lynn, the Director of Community Engagement for Educational Enrichment Systems; Alyssa Martindale, a Pacific Ridge junior representing Hands of Peace, an organization that brings Israeli, Palestinian, and American teens together; and Arthi Haripriyan and Sarah Tatsumi, two Pacific Ridge seniors who work with a local men’s shelter for their independent service learning project.

Over the course of an hour, each panelist brought a unique perspective to the table, highlighting a diverse set of issues, such as access to quality education, immigration, and homelessness; and also different approaches to addressing these issues, such as political advocacy, community organizing, dialogue, and more. In addition, each panelist shared what “social justice” meant to them and narrated why they are committed to their work and the approaches they take.

The ninth graders left class that day with a deeper understanding of social justice and a broader sense of the possible justice-oriented actions available to them. They can put this knowledge to use when they join, lead, or create Service Learning groups in their remaining three years at Pacific Ridge.

Ideally, they will also feel empowered make a difference in their future lives, advocating for those in need and standing up to injustice when necessary.

Hannah Bahn