In a classroom at Temple, India Fenner asked her students if anyone ever experienced police brutality. Several students raised their hands. One said she was in seventh grade when she saw an alleged incident of police brutality, Fenner said.
Fenner, a freshman political science and African American studies major, was a POWER intern — a program for high school juniors and seniors that teaches students about topics like race and class through collaborative, project-based learning.
The program is run by Temple’s University Community Collaborative, which has several programs designed to teach high school and college students leadership and awareness of political and social issues through media production, internship opportunities and peer education activities. The center’s POWER internship program expanded in Spring 2016 with the formation of the POWER Returners, a year-long social justice internship for mostly high school students who are former POWER interns and wanted to continue the work.
“We’re learning more about how to be educators toward teachers and other students,” said Fenner, now a POWER Returner. “It helped me become a better person.”
During the initial internship program, the high school students learn how to edit video, audio and operate multimedia equipment. They produce short documentaries, public service announcements and podcasts about social issues like politics, race and class.
“It’s not that I wanted to come back,” Fenner said. “It was that I needed to because this was the first and only place that I could express myself on issues I face as a Black female on the daily basis.”
The program had two groups of returners: one in October and one in February. The POWER Returners create more content and present it to high school and college students through screenings, and also help the interns create content.
“Our aim is to take the media that they created and bring it out into the world in a way that educates others,” said Nick Palazzolo, the POWER internship coordinator and a second-year master’s of secondary education student. “The students are really engaged with the returners.”
Previous videos they’ve screened focused on topics like civil rights groups and the impact that rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music has on raising awareness about African-American issues.
“Those screenings have an impact because they raise awareness around the strength and expertise of our young people,” Palazzolo said.
The returners hosted a workshop at Central High School in the Logan section of Philadelphia in January to discuss “identity erasure,” which is when oppressed histories are denied or ignored in history or literature curriculums in school, Palazzolo said. The group created a 14-minute documentary about the same topic last year that featured Philadelphia high school students talking about their own experiences with erasure.
One of the students featured in the video, Bersabeh, said she moved to the United States from Ethiopia as a child. She said she heard comments like “You’re not African” and “You talk white” growing up in the U.S., and they erased her identity as an African woman.
“I don’t identify as African American,” she said in the video. “Reason number one being African Americans don’t share the same culture as an African person.”
The POWER program meets once a week. With Palazzolo’s help, Adesh Dasani, a former facilitator for the group and a senior political science and economics major, created an 18-week curriculum for POWER Returners.
Facilitators teach interns about social justice issues and audio-visual editing, Dasani said.
Dasani said there are 12 weeks of political education, and returners discuss civil rights issues every week. Students are also assigned books to read and discuss by authors like James Baldwin, a novelist, poet and essayist who was renowned for his writing about race, spirituality and humanity.
The POWER program is a place where students can “talk about their opinions [and] create content around important issues to them,” Dasani said.
“POWER is a space that lifts up the expertise of youth voices and equips them with the tools to become the masters of their own stories,” Palazzolo said.
Ayah Alkhars can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article previously misstated the length of the program and who participates. The program operates all year long and participants are mainly high school students. It was misstated that program facilitators are volunteers; they are paid. Nick Palazzolo’s name was also misspelled.