School of Social Justice
About the Learning Program
Graduates of The School of Social Justice experience a unique education that is both academically rigorous and personalized. In addition to California Content State Standards and university requirements, the SSJ curriculum utilizes inquiry-based instruction and higher-level questioning and thinking. At the center of the school’s curricular design is service learning that encourages students to take ownership of their education while developing an appreciation of lifelong learning. Each semester, students explore and develop a deeper understanding of social justice issues and human rights concerns. These projects emphasize student voice, student choice, and student involvement; they also enable students to apply 21st century skills learned in the classroom – such as communication and collaboration – to real-life applications.
The School of Social Justice teaches students the importance of organization as it applies to everything from individual daily academic needs to larger justice movements. Students in Social Justice learn organizational skills to allow them to manage their own work, enable them to work effectively in groups, and become both active leaders and collaborators in the community. As a school, we believe that without the ability to organize, students will be unable to affect lasting positive social change. Organizational skills are demonstrated through work in their individual classes, through the curriculum presented in advisory, and through multi-disciplinary projects in grade-level service learning.
The School of Social Justice develops students into advocates for groups that are marginalized and underserved. Teachers model compassionate and constructive communication and create a familial and supportive atmosphere in their classrooms. Through a structured advisory curriculum, students learn about existing systems of power in society, and develop more equitable and supportive relationships through democratic council discussions. Through annual service learning projects, students apply their advocacy skills to real-world challenges in their community. Furthermore, students are encouraged to participate in public service, instructional assemblies, performances, political rallies, protests, campaigns, and extracurricular clubs such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and the social justice art club PULSE. Students will participate in civic actions, establishing connections with other organizations such as MALDEF, Miguel Contreras Foundation, UCLA labor center and others.
District Policies Allow for Teacher-Powered Innovation
The school began 16 years ago as a small learning community within a large comprehensive high school. In the beginning, the teacher team did not have the autonomy to innovate and redesign learning programs to best serve their students. After Los Angeles Unified School District created new policies and opportunities to give some schools more local decision making power and autonomies, the teacher team applied for pilot school status. In 2013, School of Social Justice was approved as a teacher-powered pilot school.
Impact on Learning Programs
When Social Justice was a small learning community, students participated in a semester or year-long service learning projects that were designed by the teachers. The projects lacked student-choice because teachers did not have the resources and power to improve their programs.
Since becoming a teacher-powered school, teachers use their autonomies around budgeting, schedules, and professional development to improve their service-learning projects. The projects are now more interdisciplinary, driven by student choice and passion, and connected with community partnerships. Just recently, the school’s partnership with the Youth Policy Institute opened up opportunities for students to explore law enforcement and justice careers.
Impact on Student Achievement
Since becoming a teacher-powered school, Social Justice has seen improvement in student learning and student achievements. Here are some highlights:
- Graduation rates increased from 78% to 82%.
- Course pass rates have improved. For example, 10th-grade-course pass rates increased from 76% to 93%.
- Increase in students feeling safe at their schools from 60% to 87%.
How can schools become more teacher-powered and student-centered?
If your teacher team wants to exercise more of its teacher-powered autonomies to innovate and improve, here are three places to start:
- Devote professional development time for teachers to collaborate and plan together around specific goals.
- Look at your scheduling autonomy. It doesn’t require extra money to make schedule changes. It’s a good place to start when trying to make innovative changes.
- Start partnering with community organizations. They can help bring new experiences and learning opportunities for students.