Interrupting Racism Leaders high school - Brooklyn, NY

"This class was a part of a journey to find who I was through the perspective of others’ struggles and narratives." -N.C.

"Talking about all the forms of racism (institutional, interpersonal, and internalized) showed us everything that needs to be fixed to solve the problem of racism." -L.S.

Overview of an Expedition by 10th Grade English Teachers Sara Boeck Batista and Danny Fernandez


Our school’s wonderful community of about 350 9th-12th graders consists of students who speak more than 20 different languages and come from a diverse range of ethnic, racial, and religious identities. In a time period where school segregation is at its highest rate since Brown v. Board of Education, this diversity is a huge asset and learning opportunity for our young people. But, even with our school's rich diversity, race is still a taboo topic of discussion for our students and one that creates tension when brought up.

To address these concerns, we, at Leaders High School, have spent the past four years developing an expedition that inspires students to ask questions about the world, themselves, and each other through the lenses of social identities, all while taking a leadership role in their communities.

Through this expedition we aim to de-stigmatize conversations about race and identity in order to center our learning around student voice and experience in the classroom, and build empathy between our students and their diverse communities.

Through close analysis of literature and non-fiction texts, critique of pop culture, student-led discussions, and experiences with experts in our community, students built an understanding of their own placement in society and identified strategies for empowering oppressed groups in meaningful ways.


In today’s climate of emboldened racism, sexism, and xenophobia it is more important now than ever that we tackle these issues head on.

Source: https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/13/politics/hate-crimes-fbi-2016-rise/index.html

After the presidential election of 2016, there was a sharp rise in incidents of hate speech and incidents of bias in the United States. In response to fear in local communities, the Arab American Association of New York began an initiative to support Muslim, Arab , and undocumented people in New York City who had experienced or feared incidents of bias. The resulting project became a city-wide initiative called The Accompany Project which trains community members in bystander intervention and de-escalation.

Inspired by the community-focused response to an issue that we had been working through in class, we forged a connection with AAA-NY to train our students as leaders in their own communities to act as informed upstanders against hate and injustice and bring the classroom content into our real lives. We paired this experience with close readings of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Students participate in a circle conversation about shared experiences and challenges involving race and identity.

This expedition was designed to make space for our diverse class of 10th graders to explore power structures in our society, in our lives, and in literature to be more aware of how racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression manifest and what they can do to interrupt these damaging ways of thinking. Throughout the expedition, students learned more about how they can have the really hard conversations about racism and sexism that need to happen to make our community and country a more equitable place.


Having difficult conversations

This project has built character and empathy in our students by allowing them to lean-in to the discomfort of discussing topics that are often contentious. By reading texts about oppression from various perspectives, having difficult conversations and discussions, and by engaging in training and training others how to be upstanders in the community, students have the tools to be advocates for themselves and others. This practice has allowed students to be forces for change in our school and the broader community.

Taking Responsibility in Our Communities

While discussing these issues is important, the next step to actually creating change in our communities and the world is to spread the word and begin actual interventions. This expedition sought to equip students with the skills to take their learning outside of the classroom, not just in their ability to notice and analyze oppression when they see it, but to have the tools to actually do something in the moment.

10th grade students turn-key the Bystander Intervention training to other students and teachers at our school.

Speaking with Intention and Respect

Discussions about identity and oppression require vulnerability. To prepare students for this we worked to establish norms as a community and used protocols, such as restorative circles and socratic seminars, to hold everyone accountable for their impact on others as they express their world view. We worked to encourage the use of "I" statements, literacy moments, and respectful questioning of assumptions to facilitate dialogue where students could understand the perspectives and experiences of those who are different from them. Additionally, teacher facilitators used best practices established by Teaching Tolerance to identify student feelings that come up in discussion to address them in a way which validates student feelings and also challenges students to move beyond their comfort zone and individual experiences into a more complex understanding of our society.

"Turning a blind eye to the realities of oppression causes many people to be in denial of the truth of racism and other kinds of discrimination." -M.L.

Students lead a bystander intervention workshop for students, staff, and community members at Brooklyn's Boro Hall to spread their learning to our wider community.


This expedition is designed to enable our students to interlace their academic learning with real world incidents by obtaining training around how to be upstanders inside and outside of school, and how to have difficult conversations about the role race and identity play in people’s lives.

Students used their academic understanding that role race and identity play in their lives to have informed conversations with each other and members of the community at large, with the goal of bridging differences between people and promoting empathy.

Students use annotation strategies to break down complex texts

"This class let me know about different kinds of racism. It was my first time hearing about internalized racism. I hope that racism against people of color can be less and less over time." -J.Z.

Literature as a Proxy for Life

By reading the fiction and non-fiction accounts of how characters and individuals process and face their identity, students were able to compare and contrast their own experiences to the texts we read in class. By using literature as a proxy, students were able to more closely interrogate privilege, power, and oppression in their lives and in our society in a way that allowed for vulnerability and closer analysis.

Research suggests that reading literary texts promotes empathy among people. Throughout the semester, students worked to identify and test their own perspectives about race and identity against fiction and nonfiction texts. This practice manifested in deep discussions and essays which allow students to develop a thesis and support it with texts and experiences they had throughout the expedition.

Questioning Assumptions

Through carefully designed discussions and exercises from experts in the classroom, and on fieldwork, students were able to further consider and analyze their own bias and the assumptions that others have. This allowed students the space to share and consider how they may subconsciously contribute to systems of oppression and how they can become involved in the real-life advocacy work that outside organizations are already doing.

Students work together to build a working definition of race and racism.

Analyzing the Complexity of Identity

Through discussions, fieldwork, and written analysis, students were able to identify the ways that intersectionality impacts our experience in the world. The students’ academic work culminated in the writing of a performance-based assessment task (PBAT), which allowed students to focus in on one theme that they've found interest in as they moved through the expedition. In their PBATs, students used text-based evidence and personal experience to prove their thesis in response to one of the guiding questions or a question they developed independently.

Synthesizing Texts to Form an Argument

Students began this expedition by reading sections of the nonfiction text, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. By analyzing how Coates’ identity impacted his experiences in the world, students explores how their own identities have impacted and will impact their experiences in society.

Next, students read The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Students examined how writing can be used to send messages about the role that our identities play in shaping our experiences in the world. Throughout the reading of these texts, students engaged in conversation not only about each text, but also how the texts connect to events and experiences in our community and the world. During the reading of the texts, the discussions, and other activities, students wrote their own questions to ask about the world, developed ideas about the role of literature in society, and considered what the texts and conversations have revealed to them about their own identity.

Students engaged with texts, had discussions, and participated in activities that help to bridge concepts between authors, themes, news events, and pop culture. This thinking culminated in student developed PBATs which were based on their own passions and experiences and enhanced by thoughtful analysis of texts.

Academically, students used their analysis and synthesis of information from fiction and nonfiction texts to respond to the guiding questions. By making meaningful interpretations of the books, discussing themes and central ideas, students made an arguments about the role race and other identities play in America.

Authentic Connections to the Community

Sonny Singh runs a workshop on Intersectionality and power in society.


To further facilitate productive conversations about race and identity, we partnered with Sonny Singh and Ana Duque, both race educators who work with Border Crossers and independently with teachers and students. Ana led our students through an investigation of race, and the 3 I's of oppression (institutional, interpersonal, and internalized) to give our students a more broad definition of racism and context for oppression in it's many forms. Students used these layers to analyze oppression in our texts and our lives.

Sonny Singh then led our students through conversations about power in society and students' lives through the context of their layered identities. Through this work, Sonny facilitated conversation about intersectionality and how our identities reflect power and oppression in our daily lives.

Students participate in a workshop with guest Ana Duque, about institutional, interpersonal, and internalized racism.


Students chose one of 6 organizations to visit to learn more about how the themes we studied in class manifest in the real world. The fieldwork allowed students to further understand what kinds of real-world advocacy organizations are doing right now and how they can become involved.

Students visit (left to right) Arab American Association-NY, Mixteca Organization, the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, and Change.org to learn strategies and approaches to advocacy in the real world.

Students visited 6 organizations who are working to intervene in oppression and advocate for people in need. The Arab American Association of New York, Change.org, Brooklyn Community Pride Center, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Standing Up for Racial Justice- NYC, and Mixteca Organization all worked with our students to discuss their approaches to advocacy work and the careers that exist within social justice. As students toured these facilities and heard from staff, they were able to consider a real-world product that they could create when they return to the classroom to support the work of one organization or cause that they care about. Students then produced a small awareness campaign for our school community.


Leading our communities

Student Leaders developed a bystander intervention training and delivered it to the rest of the 10th grade in community circles.

Most importantly, our students learned to facilitate bystander intervention workshops for community members, students, and staff. Through these student-led workshops, our larger community learned how to address microaggressions and how to be an upstander when identity-based inequity occurs.

“This circle showed me that when racism, sexism, or xenophobia occurs I can step in and stop it so it doesn’t end badly.” -J.A.

Facilitating Difficult Conversations

At the our school's Presentation of Learning, students ran a workshop for other students, staff, and members of the public on how to de-escalate racism and how to address microaggressions, with an ultimate goal of providing safety to victims of harassment and empowerment to our community to intervene. By facilitating these conversations and providing strategies, our students have empowered themselves and the community to combat racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia in the larger community.


The primary goal of this project was to empower our students to be forces for change in the world. To be able to do this around a topic as fraught as race requires context, listening, and empathy. This expedition provides students with exposure to and practice with each of these. Each person has their own identity that influences their experiences in a unique way. Our hope is that students leave this class with a better understanding of how our identities can shape our experiences, and that they have more patience and kindness when encountering someone with different identities and experiences from their own. By digging deeper into their own identities and hearing the stories of others through discussion and story-sharing and by reading about others’ identities and experiences, students will build those bridges of understanding across the diversity of our school’s community, which mirrors that of our city and our nation. Through the opportunity to share their perspectives and experiences and lead workshops with fellow students and community members, they will be able to help build these bridges outside of our school between members of our city’s diverse community.

"Being a leader at my school did more for me than I was expecting. I have learned about character, and now I truly feel like I can help anyone with anything, like Superman. Bystander Intervention helped me do more in my community in 3 months than I have in 17 years." -D.M.

"I enjoyed learning about different groups and races to understand where we all stand in society and the privileges and disadvantages we all have." -A.S.

"Learning about real life situations helped me expand my knowledge and made me see things in a different way." -M.A.

"I used to be scared to tell others [about my experience]. I thought that no one will be able to understand what I went through. Now I’m not. Not anymore. I just want to be at peace and have no burdens anymore. Talking about [these issues] has made me want to take a role as an activist to make sure others don't experience oppression the way I did." -L.S.

“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.” -Rosa Parks

Created By
Sara Boeck Batista

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