In Classrooms: Social Justice Humanitas Academy (Part 4)

Social Justice Humanitas Academy is located in the city of San Fernando within the Los Angeles Unified School District. According to the website,

Our mission is to achieve social justice through the development of the complete individual. In doing so, we increase our students’ social capital and their humanity while creating a school worthy of our own children.

These mission statements act as a guide to all decision making” for a school that opened in 2011 on a new campus. Consider the school’s demographics and academic profile.

Since SJHA opened in 2011 its demographics have stayed consistent. SJHA has 513 students (2019) enrolled in 9th through 12th grades. On race and ethnicity (2015), 95 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent African American and one percent each for Caucasian and Native American. Of that number 12 percent were English Learners. Special education students were 10 percent of enrollment. And 88 percent were eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Since March I have published on this blog a series of classroom observations about a school that seeks social justice, advocates student activism, and self-actualization (see here, here, and here). In this post and the next I describe two additional lessons I observed.

Shaved pate, wearing a white shirt, blue tie and grey slacks, English teacher Robert Martinez immediately turns to the white board as the period begins—right after lunch, mind you–and directs the 24 ninth graders’ attention to what he has written on it: “Community Cultural Wealth: A Review.”

The students, sitting 2-4 at a table facing one another, look at the whiteboard as Martinez launches a whole group discussion through a series of slides on Community Cultural Wealth. From time to time, he calls on students to read a slide by addressing the student as Ms. Rodriguez or Mr. Montero.

Earlier classes have dealt with fixed and growth mindsets, grit, and three forms of capital: “Aspirational Capital, Familial Capital and Navigational Capital.” Martinez says, “I use these Capitals to resist and overcome oppression.” Then he asks the class what is “oppression.” A few students offer answers. He then defines the word and refers to the book they are currently reading, Always Running (full title is La Vida Loca: Gang Days in LA by Luis Rodriguez).

Whole group discussion continues as teacher moves through slides and students read about Aspirational Capital (hopes and dreams) and Navigational Capital (the different communities beyond family that each student interacts with). On the slide for Aspirational Capital, Martinez points out the upcoming trip to California colleges as a experience they will have that looks to the dreams they have for themselves—many are the first in their family to consider college.

Martinez intersperses reading of slides and occasional questions from students with comments such as: “Ultimately this (different forms of capital) is for you to see yourself, what mindset you have. Make the jump and get out of your comfort zone,” he says. To one student who reads a slide correctly, the teacher compliments her: “College level, girl.”

As I look around the room, I see that about half of the class has notebooks out and are taking notes.

Phone on desk rings and teacher answers. Hangs up and directs a student to go to office. Teacher returns to definitions of different forms of Capital. On Familial Capital, Martinez states: “You know the people who hold you back. You may be in a toxic relationship and have to ask yourself, ‘Do these people have my back?’ “

Some students yell out questions and statements after teacher makes comments about a slide. When he asks for students to calm down, class responds immediately and gets quiet.

After completing the slides on different forms of Capital, Martinez shifts to next part of lesson when he will divide class into groups of 4-6 students to read Chapters 7 and 8 of Always Running. He chooses which students will be in one group and directs them to read Chapter 7 and does the same the other groups asking them to read Chapter 8.

He directs both groups to fill out worksheet on each form of Capital. He passes out the worksheets and asks students to jot down what transpired in each chapter and link examples to different kinds of Capital. Then he says he will reassemble both groups so that each group will present information on their chapter to the other group. Each specific example drawn from the chapter and written on worksheet will get one point, he says. He then announces: “Read for 20 minutes and complete chapter.”

Groups turn to task of reading and completing worksheets. I scan classroom and see that individual students in each group are reading. Martinez walks around monitoring students reading. At this point, I exit the classroom to see another teacher.





Filed under how teachers teach, Reforming schools

4 responses to “In Classrooms: Social Justice Humanitas Academy (Part 4)

  1. Melissa Pittard

    Dr. Cuban, have you kept in touch with what’s going on in Arlington? Did you just hear the current superintendent Dr. Murphy just announced his retirement? Someone on ARLNow just suggested getting you back. Since I moved to Arlington in 1985, you predated my time here, so I looked you up. No kidding! With all we are struggling with — devaluing of teachers, overuse (badly) of technology, social justice issues, etc. — you would be a wise advisor. Melissa (with triplets at HBW)

    • larrycuban

      Thank you, Melissa, for getting in touch. I had not known of Superintendent Murphy’s retirement. Last time I was in Arlington I did research in a few schools in 2005. Rob Smith hosted me during the week I was in town. Occasional teachers have stayed in touch. That’s it. I was Superintendent for seven years during a difficult time in closing schools and fears of the growing minority population. I worked for a super-fine school board at the time and we came to grips–amid much conflict–with both problems of consolidation and fear. Arlington County Public Schools has had an admirable reputation nationally for its work on minority achievement and reducing inequalities. And its per-pupil expenditure. Thanks for getting in touch.

      • Melissa

        Sure. Glad to know who you are! It’s still pretty rough in spots here. Growth, overcrowding, need for more schools. Technology that has been poorly introduced, used, managed. Teachers who feel less than valued. Several key administrators who left recently. Poor record of serving minority students and special education students. Recent DOJ settlement: I think the national reputation might not be quite in synch with what’s happening on the ground. Sounds like you dealt with a lot of things that got better but have, with recent stresses and leadership, gotten worse again. APS is a great school system with excellent teachers, but we are facing many challenges. I think because we are in a wealthy area, many deficiencies can become invisible because of tutors, outside classes, and such. But the people who can’t afford such things really do depend on the school system to be there for them. And, very often, it is not. Take care.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for commenting on Arlington, Melissa.

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