The Social Justice Leadership Program

Supporting Student Action for Justice and Education.

After initial funding from the BHS Innovation Fund, the Social Justice Leadership Program is now fully integrated into the Brookline High School curriculum. Watch a video interview with teacher Kate Leslie here.

The Brookline community has traditionally welcomed innovation in areas that nurture the development of responsible citizenship and ethical debate. Presently Brookline High School offers students a variety of community service opportunities as well as coursework on social issues. However, as important and beneficial as these opportunities are, they are all too often limited either by the confines of a classroom experience or in the service they aim to achieve.


The primary goals of SJLP are as follows:

  • To equip students with the tools necessary to become active leaders in the community of ‘change makers’;
  • To nurture a profound sense of citizenship that incorporates humility, global awareness and social responsibility;
  • To cultivate an interest in particular areas of concern and gain a sense of their own individual importance as an agent of change;
  • To transform students to endeavor to create justice in their own lives and also the communities they seek to impact.

Further, the program seeks to distinguish between community service and social justice, emphasizing collective rather than individual responses to injustice, and transformative rather than temporary relief from social problems. Social Justice Leadership aims to fill a void, creating a novel program offering students an experience that is student-defined and action-oriented.  It complements the existing student group, Student Action for Justice and Education (SAJE) — where there is a clear demand for more structured and supported social justice work.

The core of the program is completion of an internship project in a local social justice organization. A program coordinator procures internship placements for students and provides supportive curriculum, which includes readings, speakers, and opportunities to share experiences. Activities include:

  • Trainings on issues of racism;
  • Visit to a prison, in conjunction with discussions on socio-economic class and race;
  • Speaker series on an array of social issues, such as: gay marriage, low-income housing, wealth and equality, and environmental justice (domestically and internationally);
  • Field trip to and student exchange with a Boston inner-city school;
  • Tours of Boston neighborhoods, in conjunction with discussions on environmental justice.

The program offers students social justice leadership training that includes defining and refining personal mission statements, collaborative organizing to achieve social justice goals, and formalized training in effective leadership skills. Seminar topics align with quarterly foci: identity, organizing to make change, identifying issues of interest and leadership. Seminars are also a forum to analyze internship experiences and evaluate writing.

Students who complete trainings, internship and attend seminars receive certification in social justice advocacy.

There are countless examples around the world of students — including high school students and younger — who made a huge difference in the way we see things,” teacher Roger Grande says. “One of the great things about BHS is we don’t shy away from mature topics,” Grande continued. “This is a crucial time to meet kids around issues. They learn history in a more sophisticated way.”

Go to the bottom of this page to read the mission statement of Sadye Sagov, BHS 2009, and Social Justice Leadership participant.

They Can Change the World

Social Justice Program Empowers BHS Students to Become Leaders*

by Rebecca Coven ‘09 and Laura Sampson ‘08, News Editor and Contributors’ Editor for The Sagamore

In response to a recent national decline in civic activism, the 21st Century Fund initiated the Social Justice Leadership Program, allowing 25 juniors and seniors at Brookline High School to embark on a year-long journey towards social activism.

“What’s your larger purpose?” Social Justice program leader Roger Grande challenges to each of his students who bring up different problems they see in the world during his seminars. “What is your actual motivation to help with this social justice issue?”

The program focuses on how to make students active leaders who create change in global causes that they care about. “I want students and young people to see that they each have the ability to be a powerful person in terms of making change,” said Grande.

Helping students find their mission

Throughout the year, students work towards creating their own mission statement that declares what issue they are passionate about and how they plan to address it. Grande hopes this mission statement will help focus students on an important issue and lead them towards becoming life-long social justice advocates.

Grande also guides students through discussion-based seminars and field trips that allow them to experience social justice in action. Additionally, each student has an internship with one of 15 participating Boston area social justice organizations.

Internships put ideas into action

At their internships, students learn how ideas get put into action. Junior Rachel Baras and Senior Lizzy Divine interned with SHARED Inc., an organization based out of Brookline Village that works to improve global health in poor countries by providing the proper medicines and vaccines to residents. With the help of SHARED’s president Elizabeth Ziemba, Baras and Divine organized two events that raised $1,700. This money went toward planting a community garden that provides food for people with HIV and AIDS in the African country of Lesotho.

For Baras, the internship was a worthwhile experience, “I think that what this internship showed me was that I, as an individual, was able to set up this whole program that would be affecting so many people in Lesotho.” Baras plans to stay involved with SHARE even though her internship is complete.

“They were successful in everything that I asked them to do,” said Ziemba. “Because Rachel and Lizzy did such a terrific job, it’s really given me a lot of confidence about the quality and the caliber of work that the high school students can do.”

Senior Patrick Alvarado had the chance to practice leadership in social justice at his internship with Bikes Not Bombs, an organization based out of Jamaica Plain.

Along with promoting bicycles as an alternate mode of transportation, the organization ships used bicycles along with technicians and tools to economic development projects in countries such as South Africa and Ghana. Locally, Bikes Not Bombs serves low-income youth in Boston by opening their doors to children through various programs. Alvarado worked with kids in the Earn-a-Bike Program by teaching young people about bicycle mechanics and environmental issues while getting them involved in community service.

This internship was the perfect opportunity for Alvarado to link his passion for biking with his social justice goals. “I learned a lot about how an organization runs itself, the power structure of [the organization] and also how it obtains finance and support,” said Alvarado.

Making a difference
As the program completes its first year, Grande and his students have identified enhancements for next year, including more guest speakers and a focus on a different social justice issue each term so that students can become more deeply immersed in the issues.

But this year’s participants have already taken the plunge into social action. “I plan to be active [in social justice] throughout my life,“ said junior and Social Justice participant Sophie Kazis,“ I don’t know necessarily where that will take me but I want to be an active rather than passive citizen.”

*This article appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the Brookline High School 21st Century Fund Program News.



  • 617-713-5201
  • 115 Greenough St Brookline, MA 02445