Exploring Social Activism Through Image and Word at SHS

One of the new classes offered at Shorewood High School this year is Exploring Social Activism through Image and Word, a collaboration between Art teacher Jessica Mohagen and English teacher Renee Glembin. The class combines poetry, art, and social justice, and gives students the opportunity to have important and meaningful conversations with each other, engage with guest speakers invited into the classroom, and visit sites around Milwaukee that connect to their learning.

The students’ main focus is to conduct research on social justice movements and the writers and artists that crystallized those movements, and to create various visual art and written pieces in order to discover their own best methods for bringing awareness to a contemporary social inequity.

Ultimately, this course seeks at its core to expand learning beyond the classroom and take students into the local and surrounding communities to explore potential problems, issues and solutions. Students meet with area leaders - civic leaders as well as grassroots organizers - who are working to remedy problems within those communities. Students work side-by-side with such leaders and engage in service learning in order to more deeply explore societal issues as they work toward the development of their own capstone project.

“There have been exciting -- and challenging -- things going on in our classroom,” says Glembin. “It is a lot of research and then reflection. We are immersed in social justice topics and thus, have been having some deep -- and deeper -- conversations about what our roles should be as white people, as black people, when it comes to talking about civil rights, specifically.”

So far this year, the students have been on tours of Milwaukee’s Civil Rights marches, taken a field trip to an urban community center where the students will be painting a mural, toured the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, worked with Ex-Fabula (an organization that strengthens community bonds through the art of storytelling), and conversed with many area leaders including Margaret Rozga, a long-time local civil rights activist and poet.

Rozga is the wife of Father Groppi—who led the housing marches in Milwaukee in the 1960s—and is Wisconsin's 2019 Poet Laureate. Last month, she visited the Image and Word class to read from her poetry book, 200 Nights and 1 Day, and to share her experiences as an activist. The students had a very valuable, lengthy dialogue with Rozga, who prompted discussion through open-ended questions about her book, and Rozga enjoyed her time with the students.

“I love the vibrant community of poetry readers and writers in Wisconsin,” says Rozga. “In the spirit and with the enthusiasm of past poet laureates, I want to continue helping that community grow. Poets who write from a deeply felt sense of what enriches our lives make those qualities palpable for all of us. I look forward to sharing and extending this love of poetry throughout Wisconsin.”

Learn more about Margaret Rozga here.
The students are now concentrating on their capstone projects, taking what they have learned and sharing it with the larger local community, in the form of a mural, slam poetry, an art exhibit, a short story, a blog, an editorial, a letter to the editor, and another creative outlet.

Mohagen says that at the end of this course, in addition to completing a solid capstone project*, she and Glembin hope that their students also achieve additional goals.

“We want students to gain a knowledge that everyone has a place in this world, gain a sense of self-worth through expression, gain an appreciation for the humanities, and become a passionate citizen through reading, speaking, writing, and creating.”

Glembin adds, “What I like so much about this class is that it uses Design Thinking methods to rethink classroom instruction. We chipped away at traditional classroom models to create something where students could take ownership of their learning, go out into the community and make meaning of what is going on ‘out there’ and bring it back and tell others.”
*Families and community members are encouraged to attend the class's End-of-Year Capstone Night on Tuesday, June 4, 6-8 p.m. at Anodyne Coffee Company (224 W Bruce St, Milwaukee, WI 53204).