Shorewood Intermediate School Ally Club Addresses Identity and Social Justice

At every Shorewood School District Board meeting, special time is set aside to highlight different student groups who have the opportunity to present their unique classroom or extracurricular school experiences with the Board. This week, three students in the Shorewood Intermediate School Ally Club—Eleanor Chappell, Will Dworschack-Kinter and Chessoni Waite—along with teacher advisors Sara Kitzinger-Anton and Kelly Steiner, shared more about the club and their individual experiences being a part of it.

The Ally Club, which formed at the beginning of the District’s RaceWorks journey nearly three and a half years ago, was created with the purpose to help train students to understand power and privilege, teach them the basic tenants of social justice, and help them to understand the different components that make up identity (i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, body (identity related- shape weight mental health, country of origin, etc).

The club, which is open to all students at SIS, meets every Thursday during the Guided Study and Lunch hour and currently has approximately 30 active members.

“We learn about privilege and prejudice and how it relates to our daily life at school,” says SIS student Will Dworschack-Kinter. “We also learn how to interrupt prejudice when we witness it and how to teach others to respond to prejudices that they see in school.”

The club follows the Teaching Tolerance four-step strategy of:
1) Interrupt: speak up against the biased remark to stop the speech from continuing
2) Question: ask non-judgmental, exploratory questions to gain a better understanding of why the remarks have been said.
3) Educate: explain why the term or phrase is offensive.
4) Echo: Reiterate the anti-bias message; multiple voices speaking up is powerful.

Additional Club activities include participating in a privilege walk, engaging in situational role playing, organizing a Black Lives Matter week at school, and hosting a Day of Silence.

“What I think is really cool about the privilege walk is that we want the students to see how different identities affect privilege,” says advisor Kelly Steiner. “The students are asked to write down their own identities on a sheet with the eight identity markers we learn about. Then each students’ identity markers are anonymously placed in eight cups and the students draw out one marker from each cup… the students get to see the identity make-up of our whole group, while keeping confidentiality, and can really conceptualize what privilege means.”

Throughout the privilege walk, a number of statements are read by the facilitator and the student participants are asked to take a step forward or backward based on their responses. (Example: If your primary ethnic identity is “American,” take one step forward. If English is your second language, take one step back.) This activity forces participants to confront the ways in which society offers privilege to some individuals over others. It is designed to get participants to reflect on the different areas in their lives where they have privilege as well as the areas where they don't.

“Other things we organize include Black Lives Matter week at school,” says Dworschack-Kinter. “We take a week to educate the school community on inspiring African Americans throughout history that have influenced our history. It’s really an exciting time. We get to look at a lot of historical figures that we might not have heard about otherwise. And we learn about history that has been kind of silenced at times and take that week to focus on amazing people.”

This year, the Ally Club students researched and compiled a slideshow of inspiring African American figures based on each SIS teacher’s interests or class subject. The Club then sent one important African American figure and mini bio to each teacher and asked that the teachers take time to weave that figure and his/her accomplishments into their lesson plan. The activity was well-received by the teachers and students enjoyed learning about these inspiring, historical figures.

Another Ally Club activity this year was taking a field trip to GSAFE, an organization that helps create just schools for LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin by developing the leadership of LGBTQ+ youth, supporting Gay-Straight Alliances, training educators, advancing educational justice, and deepening racial, gender, trans, and social justice.

“I was fortunate enough to go on the field trip,” says SIS student Eleanor Chappell. “It was frankly amazing because of how much we learned, how we saw all these different people with different identities coming together to talk about their situations, and how GSAFE was trying to help them. It was amazing to see that all these people are here for you, as a resource to help, if you have something you are struggling with. It was really fun.”

Students who go through the Ally Club program, and attend at least 5 out of 7 meetings per quarter, are awarded a poster to place on their locker which designates them as a safe person to talk to for other SIS students who may be struggling with their own identities or have questions.

“It’s great to see that the Ally Club is continuing to grow and that there is an increased awareness of the club’s mission and purpose within our SIS school community,” says club advisor Sarah Kitzinger-Anton. “To date, we have already graduated about 140 kids and we hope that we can continue to raise these numbers and do great work in the future.”

For more information on the Ally Club or if you are interested in joining, contact [email protected].