Administrators this school year implemented the Leadership Academy for Social Justice, a new series of classes designed to promote leadership and advocacy for students.
The initiative consists of five courses focusing on social issues: African American Studies, LGBTQ+ Studies, Introduction to Social Justice (LENS), Media in Society and Women’s Studies.
Completing at least two of these classes will grant students a certificate of merit and a letter of recognition from MCPS officials. Taking all five courses, completing a school-organized internship, finishing a capstone project and serving as a OneWhitman facilitator will provide students with a designation on their transcript and graduation honors.
LASJ attracts students who are looking to advocate for change in the community, said program leader Sheryl Freedman, a psychology teacher.
“LASJ aims to help students learn the skills to advocate, create grassroots movements, help become allies and help people who are historically marginalized or may not have the same rights as others today,” Freedman said.
Like Whitman’s engineering pathway Project Lead the Way (PLTW), LASJ provides students with educational opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. The new advocacy program offers participating students a variety of teacher mentors, internships, and student service learning (SSL) hours.
“LASJ could be the catalyst to a greater culture of involvement in social justice at Whitman,” said senior Felipe De Bolle, who is taking LGBTQ+ Studies this year. “The effects will impact the entire student body, not just the students that take it.”
Over the past several years, Whitman has experienced numerous hate-based incidents, including multiple separate acts of racist vandalism that targeted both the Black community and the Asian community. Staff and student leaders hope the program will not only educate pupils about important societal issues but will shape Whitman’s environment into one of increased tolerance.
“It’s a great opportunity not only to help the community, but to set yourself apart as a student and learn very strong, applicable skills,” Freedman said.
Senior Austin Mboijana, who is a OneWhitman student facilitator and is taking the LENS course, is enthusiastic about the program’s advocacy opportunities that many traditional courses lack.
“It has the potential to help the student body as it will encourage leadership and involvement in OneWhitman which I think is a valuable asset to our school,” Mboijana said. “It will help the students acknowledge and break down their biases.”