Sherinda Bryant, who teaches freshman English at Menlo-Atherton High School, considers herself a social justice educator and aims to get her students thinking critically.
So when word got out about a local contest by the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County for youth to submit creative projects about the housing crisis, she saw it as an opportunity to bring conversation and creativity into the classroom about a topic that some of her students, to varying degrees, know intimately.
She provided her three freshman classes with a little bit of background instruction and some guidance on resources and left the assignment open. She selected several of the assignments to be submitted into the contest.
What the students produced surprised her.
Initially, she said, she wasn't sure how her freshmen, mostly 14-year-olds, would handle such a heavy topic. Her classes, she said, are pretty economically diverse and had varying firsthand experiences of the housing crisis: the assignment clicked a little more for her students from the Bay side of U.S. 101 than for students from the more affluent communities farther inland on the Peninsula. Many of the students found ways to make the project personal, she said, going beyond just a "Look what's happening on the other side of Willow (Road)" perspective, she explained.
Some students from affluent households expressed worry and tension that they won't be able to afford to come back to their home communities after college, she said.
Bryant added that other teachers told their students about the contest, but she was the only one she knew of who made the contest challenge into an assignment.
At an event held at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on April 29, the accomplishments of several of Bryant's students were recognized at an awards ceremony for the top submissions. There were a total of 28 projects submitted, according to Angie Evans, organizer at the Housing Leadership Council.
Marco Lenzi wrote a song called the "Housing Crisis Blues," layering together various instrument parts followed by spliced audio clips of news reports about housing.
Clara Reinhold wrote a poem, titled "Worth."
Max Villalobos made a drawing of a young woman holding a poster saying "Homes are for People not Profit." And other students submitted essays and posters.
Two students from Palo Alto High School's Verde magazine were recognized at the event: Lucia Amieva-Wang and Jenny Tseng, who created a photo essay, "The Bus Ride Home," about two of their classmates, Brianna Moreno-Alcocer and Allison Salinas, who participate in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program. The essay follows the two seniors' grueling ride home via SamTrans bus, sharing the students' experiences of harassment and discomfort they regularly undergo to get to and from school.
Access their story here.
Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor presented the students certificates in recognition of their projects and shared some of her experiences about being a renter in the area.
"It hurts my heart to see the amount of time kids spend on the bus to access quality education," she added. "I hope you continue your work and share your story."