A student, growing increasingly frustrated in their classroom, has finally had enough. They jump up from their desk and start spewing profanity, hands gesturing erratically as they enter into a full-fledged meltdown. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe, when their frustration reaches a boiling point, they sink deeper into their chair, pull up their hood and work diligently to tune out the rest of the world around them.
School isn’t easy. Coming from diverse backgrounds and experiences, it is implausible to assume every student has equal opportunity to succeed. Wediko takes special pride in working with the students for whom school is the most challenging. Whether they have a learning disability, behavioral issue, trauma history, or any combination of these and more, school isn’t easy for them. One of the most important aspects of our work in schools, then, is to make the impossibility of learning feel possible.
Thankfully, we are not the only ones with this mission. #SelmaforStudents is a movement started by a team of African American business leaders to provide free admission for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students to view Selma, a motion picture account of the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, AL.
While originally focused in New York City, #SelmaforStudents added new cities (including Boston) due to popular demand. Now a national phenomenon, the movement brings black history to the other 11 months of the year and packages the learning in a format that is more accessible for students who struggle in the classroom environment.
“The movement caters to students with different learning styles,” said Michael J. Clontz, LICSW, Director of Wediko’s School-Based Program in Boston, MA. “It uniquely combines something they like with an important historical movement.”
For the students who are most likely to be disruptive or disengaged in their desks, #SelmaforStudents becomes an alternative engagement tool, transporting them into the material they’re learning.
“It provides an opportunity for kids to understand what the front lines of the equal opportunity voting march was like,” Clontz said.
Since Wediko serves a population of students who have already endured so much difficulty and struggle within their lives, the material in Selma can prove to be even more relatable and engaging.
“The people marching in Selma experienced complex trauma. The movie does a great job showing how traumatic those experiences were,” said Matthew Brooks, Human Resources Manager at Wediko. “The children we serve experience chronic trauma now, so there’s a connection.”
This connection, while useful for learning the material, can present difficulties for this population of students as well.
“To be honest, some aspects of the movement make me nervous,” said Brooks. “I feel like we need a curriculum based on the movie if we’re going to teach it this way.”
Clontz agrees that simply showing the movie cannot stand alone as a full educational experience.
“If kids watch this movie, free or otherwise, they have to realize history is graphic. It’s important to preview what’s going to happen to make sure students are prepared for the experience beforehand.”
This need for conversation and reflection does not diminish the educational impact of Selma. In fact, for Brooks, it enhances the experience.
“Anytime a subject is brought up and put in the forefront of someone’s mind, they think about it and process it. #SelmaforStudents opens and welcomes a deep and important conversation.”
The conversation, which is useful for the students Wediko serves, also impacts Wediko staff and the organization on the whole.
“Wediko is built on helping people find self-empowerment and the ability to achieve their goals,” Clontz said. “Social justice is part of social work. Both are built on breaking down barriers.”
Wediko clinicians in New York City and Boston have encouraged the students they work with to take advantage of the free screening. Some have even volunteered to facilitate discussion afterwards.
The movement presents historical and recent events regarding race and equality in a new way, so even the withdrawn or shouting student can participate in their education.
“It’s about taking the topics that are most difficult for us to navigate and making them applicable to everyone,” Brooks said. “Just because school isn’t easy for our students, doesn’t mean their learning should suffer for it.”
Update: This event is no longer available. Interested in supporting Wediko’s mission to serve at-risk children and families? Donate here!