Helping Students Bridge Divides in the Community and Beyond

Through the new Bridging Divides: Diversity & Social Justice course at the Delta Program and State College Area High School, students are learning about issues of equity in our community and taking action. This course is designed to help students examine the complex historical, social, cultural, legal, and political roots of current social justice issues and to connect with people whose perspectives and lived experiences may differ greatly from their own. Students explore issues of division, discrimination, and inequality through a variety of learning activities, primary texts, guest speakers, and deliberative conversations that challenge their own understanding, assumptions, and biases.

The keystone experience of the course is a weeklong journey to Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery, Alabama. During this experiential week, students visit historic locations from the Civil Rights Movement, including:

• 16th Street Baptist Church

• Bethel Baptist Church

• Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

• Kelly Ingram Park

• Edmund Pettus Bridge

• National Voting Rights Museum

• Lowndes County Interpretive Center

• National Memorial for Peace and Justice

• Legacy Museum

• Rosa Parks Museum & Library

• Dexter Avenue Baptist Church & Parsonage

Students also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet community activists who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement and who still work for social justice today.  As a central component of the journey, students host a deliberative forum with Birmingham students and community members at the 16th Street Baptist Church. When they return to State College, students turn their learning into civic action by creating Community Action Projects that bridge a divide and/or address a social justice issue in their school, community or nation.

The SCASD Education Foundation recognizes the importance of community partnerships and experiential learning in implementing the District’s Inclusive Excellence Policy. If you share this belief, please consider becoming a partner on this important funding project:

• For Fall 2019, the journey to Alabama was funded through private donations and one-time grants. As the experience was truly transformative and resulted in lasting learning and change in our community, it is our goal to ensure that students taking the course in the future have the same opportunity to grow and make an impact.•

• Your donation will fund travel to Alabama, directly impacting students in the course by providing equitable experiential learning, immersion in history, skills in critical thinking and deliberative decision making, long-lasting community relationships, and the building blocks of civic engagement that strengthen our local community.

• While we gladly welcome gifts of any size, suggested donation levels include:


Building Foundations: A gift of $75 funds one student’s admission to key historic sites.

Forging Connections: A gift of $225 provides one student’s transportation for the week.

Bridging Divides: A gift of $1,100 fully funds one student to experience the journey.


Reflections from students about their experiences on the Fall 2019 journey:

“When we went to Alabama, history was presented to us without filter. The world was shown to us in a way we had never seen it before. We were able to walk in the shoes of some of the bravest people in history. We heard the stories of those whom people tried to silence. We spoke with women who had been foot soldiers, and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge holding them in our hearts. We saw where Rosa Parks boarded the bus, and the kitchen where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had his famous epiphany. I truly believe that visiting Alabama and immersing ourselves in the history was the only possible way for us to fully grasp what the Civil Rights Movement was and how it has impacted our society today. For the first time, people I had only ever read about in textbooks became real.”

“Through this course I have learned that activism is all around us. People are constantly pushing for a better world. Even when we don’t see or hear about activism, there are good people out there making the world better for those who will follow. I also learned that everybody has a piece in solving problems. Even if someone thinks that going to a march or helping promote an organization is not going to have enough of an impact, it is a team effort and everybody is important in the solution.”

“How incredible it is to talk to people who are our age and living in these places that we’re seeing as historic sites. To be in the deliberation and hearing from people who are experiencing this environment day by day and hearing their points of views, it’s really powerful…”

“Something one of the people who runs the 16th Street Baptist Church said during deliberation is that we as a society cannot make change if we get stuck on the first step of realizing that there is a problem with racism.  And that made me think that, in State College, I feel like we still need to take the first step of realizing that we have a problem with systemic racism, and then act and take further steps to solve the problem.” 

“Something I will bring back from our deliberation is how to look at issues we have in State College and we’re facing to this day: realizing there is an issue, thinking of how it can be solved, and using the skills we learned in deliberation, like talking to community members who have different perspectives and considering different methods for addressing issues in real life.”

 “I am changed. I have changed dramatically from this trip. I will focus more on injustices around me. I will be more aware. Seeing and hearing this history is a more powerful way of learning than reading a textbook or even hearing it from my teachers.”

“A common misconception is that the Alabama trip was the end of a unit. However, it wasn’t the end of anything, rather the beginning of our real work in social justice. The trip was meant to inspire us and challenge us with questions about the inequity in our own communities and spark ideas on how to ignite systemic change.”