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School adopts new antiracism and civic engagement class

The course is a highly-anticipated new one semester class being taught this year for the first time

Originally published November 9, 2021 By Cecile Turner, Features Editor

Ms. Lehni answering a student’s question in her first period class.

For the first year ever, Seattle Public School teachers are introducing and teaching Antiracism and Civic Engagement to students as a semester class at Ballard.

Laura Lehni, History, ASB and ELA teacher, has been the main teacher in charge of making this class possible for students this year.

“It is the first time this class has ever been taught,” Lehni said. “It’s a brand new course, and not only is it the first year we’re offering it at Ballard, but it’s the first time that a class like this has been made ever.”

Student and Teachers Against Racism, is a club of students and teachers, including Lehni and history teacher Taryn Coe, who helped write and organize the course proposal to introduce to the school this year.

“Ms. Coe was the teacher who actually wrote the proposal for this new course,” Lehni said. “She wrote the guide and the syllabus.” 

After Coe wasn’t able to teach the class, Principal Wynkoop reached out to Lehni to ask her to teach the class because so many students had already signed up. Lehni agreed to take on the class on top of her ELA and ASB classes and will be teaching the class from now on.

“I love teaching history and I love teaching ethnic studies,” said Lehni. “I love teaching things that are student driven and student centered.”

Lehni aims to create a class where she isn’t the dominant voice. She sees this class as an opportunity to engage with a group of students over a new topic in a way that she wouldn’t be able to in another class.

STAR members, including Lehni, wanted to create a class that would dive deeper into instances of antiracism and civic engagement in order to educate students in a way that was different from a usual history class.

For students interested in signing up for this class, it is a semester class which will earn a joint history and elective credit.

Lehni encourages students to step out of their comfort zone and try this new class. Her goal with teaching the class is for students to develop an interest to continue doing antiracist research and work. She wants students to get used to discomfort and explore why certain topics are causing them discomfort. 

“You’re never done learning, there’s always work to do,” Lehni said. “I want the class to be engaging and for students to be doing, instead of reading and memorizing.”

This class is a safe space for students to talk about how they see white supremacy in their school and community. Lehni wants the class to be a place where students don’t just name the problems, but work to fix them.

In Antiracism and Civic Engagement, students get to not only explore topics in their own time, but they also get the chance to explore parts of history that haven’t been included in their regular history classes.

“There’s an overview of objective facts of what’s happened in the past for most history classes,” Lehni said. “There’s times where I wish we could slow down and go deeper. This course allows us to go deeper into those events.”

Antiracism and Civic Engagement allows students to study events of history under a different lens, allowing them to debate and explore events from different points of view, without having to memorize the dates and events.

“It’s a safe space to learn more about history through a new lens, driven by the students and the students’ findings and knowledge,” Lehni said.

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School adopts new antiracism and civic engagement class