Girls in the Black Lightning student group at Sandburg Middle School look forward to their weekly meetings. They know that when they are together they are in a safe and supportive space because of their shared culture.
The 12-member-group affinity group provides Black female students with opportunities they may not have in a regular classroom setting, such as having conversations about healthy communication strategies, positive racial identity and self-esteem, and working on leadership skills.
Along with important conversations structured specifically around race, the group frequently hears from guest speakers who typically have some of the same things in common with the girls. At one recent meeting, a guest shared strategies for responding to microaggressions, how to gain confidence as a Black woman, and how to prepare for high school.
“I believe the students find it important because many who signed up for groups are accustomed to being dismissed by adults, and they are eager to regularly express what's going on in their lives with people that can understand where they are coming from on a personal level,” said Audrey Wingren, the school climate and culture specialist, who facilitates the Black Lightning group.
“My intention is for them to walk away feeling validated, seen, heard, and valued,” she added.
Across the district at Cooper High School, school climate and culture specialist Ebony Livingston leads two student groups: the Pan-African dance group and a girls' art therapy group.
“Culture can play an important role in student groups. Kids often feel more comfortable around those from the same culture,” said Livingston. “These groups allow students the opportunity to connect with others they may not have exposure to in a classroom or in the hallways.”
Ask the girls in Black Lightning why this group matters and you’ll hear responses like it’s a place where they can have honest conversations. For others, it’s the chance to talk to other Black students about things that impact them. For all of them, it’s an opportunity to build a community and uplift each other. Sandburg has nine student groups currently, some being racially specific and some open to all.
At Cooper, the Asian American Student Club also meets weekly. Led by David Kek, another climate and culture specialist, the group begins each week with a discussion about a race-related concept. The topics often prompt group discussion among the students.
“This group provides space for shared experiences,” said Kek. “My hope is that these discussions promote self-reflection and invite students to explore their cultural identity.”