WHS working to empower students through a civil rights exploration

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Winters High School teacher Jessica Williams is currently working to make the opportunity to attend a journey with the Sojourn Project program a reality for Winters students. The Sojourn Project is a seven-day/six-night social justice education and outreach program that immerses students in history through visits to a variety of areas and meet leaders who played a role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Williams, who teaches United States and World History, said WHS Vice Principal Justin Young first presented the idea of attending the program last year when he shared a binder of materials from his own experience with the program with staff. Young said students who attend are not only able to visit historical spots, such as the high school the Little Rock Nine attended, but also learn about the civil rights movement directly from some of the individuals who lived it and took action to make change. “It’s more important than ever as our civil rights leaders are still among us,” Young said. “These are some of the last few years for students to engage with them, and meet them and become inspired.” Williams said she really appreciates the program’s focus on equity and how Jeff Steinberg, the Sojourn Project Founder and Executive Director, is passionate about student advocacy. “His motto is ‘Let’s walk in the footsteps of these civil rights leaders’ and then ‘How can you go back and be a leader and have an impact on your community?’” Williams said. “I think the best thing about the Sojourn Project is the potential for participants in the program to come back to become leaders in their own right.” Williams believes the Winters community could benefit from student leaders who could come back empowered with the tools to make change. She said students not only learn how to address these topics that may be uncomfortable, but also how to bring an understanding to it. “This is the kind of experience where students are really pushed out of their comfort zone and gain the experience to not just be aware of the social equities in the community, but to do something about it,” Williams said. “If a student is knowledgeable about the history of civil rights and how there is even those tensions still present todayI think any level and understanding of that benefits any community.” She said the long range vision is to develop a culture of bringing a few students to experience the program each year and have a continuous impact on campus. Williams said even if the impact was only to the culture on the WHS campus the experience would be powerful. “We’ll think about what can we actively do here to take the lessons of the project and apply them to the community and the school,” said Williams. Students who attend also have an opportunity to earn college credits by completing a project. Young said the guidelines are that the project needs to be community and school based as it is presented to community members as well as their peers. Students not only experience the path of the civil rights movement and its key leaders, but also gain the experience of important skills of organizing and writing a research project and a public speaking opportunity. “It’s (the Sojourn Project opportunity) incredibly important because as part of this project they are charged with creating a project of their own and identifying inequities or issues on campus and community. It’s up to them, whatever they want to do, to advocate about it,” said Young.   Currently Williams is trying to fundraise through a Donors Choose campaign to help raise enough funds for this year’s trip. Individuals, groups or businesses interested in helping can visit https://www.donorschoose.org/project/sojourn-to-the-south-experiencing-civil/3908312 or can search for “Winters High School“ near Winters, CA on the donorschoose.org website. Young said the biggest way the community can help with is by contributing financially if they are able to. He said helping to invest in WHS students and staff to attend will help to create a lasting program and the opportunity to expand on it within the community. “The project students come back to work on raises that awareness of issues in the community that may still exist. The work that students want to do to help ultimately brings the community together,” said Young. “It not only inspires students, but community members in general.”]]>

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