Many Connections. One U.

Surprise Visit to Social Justice Class

on June 24, 2010 by Janet Edwards

Linda Biehl, (far right) visits with the Social Justice Through Service Learning class.

Teachers enrolled in Maryville’s summer Social Justice Through Service Learning course were surprised on Friday, June 18, the final day of class, when special guest Linda Biehl walked into the classroom. Biehl is the mother of the late Amy Biehl, an American anti-apartheid activist who worked in South Africa; she was killed in a brutal assault in 1993, just two days before she was to return home.

Linda Biehl continues to work with the Amy Biehl Foundation, based in Cape Town, South Africa, which provides after school education and activities for thousands of children in an effort to prevent youth violence. After being introduced to the Foundation, Judy Kendall, a retired educator and Maryville alumna (master’s in middle level education, 1991), developed a service learning curriculum using Amy’s story as the core. She is now teaching the program, along with her husband, Larry Kendall, a retired marketing executive from Purina Mills. This is the first time the course has been offered through Maryville’s School of Education.

“Through this curriculum, students learn to feel their own uniqueness and power,” Judy Kendall said. “First they identify a hero and then talk about heroic qualities and characteristics.  Then they list Amy’s heroic qualities and pick five from that list that also apply to themselves.”

Eventually, students recognize that they can make a difference; they identify a cause, develop an action plan and call on experts who can help them put their plan into motion, she said.

Teachers from various school districts in St. Louis County – including Rockwood, Hazelwood, Kirkwood, Clayton, Ladue and Parkway – representing kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms in both public and private schools, enrolled in the intensive, graduate-level course.

“If the value of a class can be measured by the action it stimulates then we are quite pleased,” Larry Kendall said. One of the students, Becky Abernathy, has already launched a website to help another of the class’s guest speakers, Warsame Warsame, who came to St. Louis as a refugee from Somalia as a young boy. She tells a heartwarming story: Warsame was same young man that she tutored as young student herself volunteering in her mother’s classroom. Abernathy taught Warsame his colors and the thrill of it convinced her to make education her career. The recent reunion was unexpected.

Abernathy was inspired immediately, but her fellow students felt equally empowered by the end of the course.

“This class has changed me and my goals in life,” wrote one student on an evaluation form. “I am one to always donate books or adopt a family. I was always willing to give money, but now I want to give my time and my skills. I want others/kids/students to know they, too, can make a difference.”

“I really feel like this will have a long-lasting impact on my teaching,” wrote another student. “Everything was powerful but the personal stories really smacked you in the face and made you (well, at least me) feel like you had to do something.”

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