Gateway to Change teaches students about social, economic and community issues

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Gateway to Change teaches students about social, economic and community issues

Sponsor and Junior Principal, Mario Pupillo poses with five students at a Gateway to Change conference. Over 80 students from across the Metropolitan area attend each conference and six of those 80 were chosen from West. “I like knowing what’s going on in our community and knowing how everybody is in contrast to each other and how we’re alike and different. It’s something I’ve never really seen before. [The conferences] opened my eyes,” freshman Connor Gusky said.

Sponsor and Junior Principal, Mario Pupillo poses with five students at a Gateway to Change conference. Over 80 students from across the Metropolitan area attend each conference and six of those 80 were chosen from West. “I like knowing what’s going on in our community and knowing how everybody is in contrast to each other and how we’re alike and different. It’s something I’ve never really seen before. [The conferences] opened my eyes,” freshman Connor Gusky said.

Courtesy of Kim Hanan-West

Sponsor and Junior Principal, Mario Pupillo poses with five students at a Gateway to Change conference. Over 80 students from across the Metropolitan area attend each conference and six of those 80 were chosen from West. “I like knowing what’s going on in our community and knowing how everybody is in contrast to each other and how we’re alike and different. It’s something I’ve never really seen before. [The conferences] opened my eyes,” freshman Connor Gusky said.

Courtesy of Kim Hanan-West

Courtesy of Kim Hanan-West

Sponsor and Junior Principal, Mario Pupillo poses with five students at a Gateway to Change conference. Over 80 students from across the Metropolitan area attend each conference and six of those 80 were chosen from West. “I like knowing what’s going on in our community and knowing how everybody is in contrast to each other and how we’re alike and different. It’s something I’ve never really seen before. [The conferences] opened my eyes,” freshman Connor Gusky said.

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I can go shopping without someone assuming that I am shoplifting, or that I am dangerous in the store, or without being followed reads English teacher Kim Hanan-West to a room full of 80 students from across the Metropolitan St. Louis Area. I can easily find band-aids that match my skin tone.

Hanan-West, the sponsor for Gateway to Change, is just one of the white teachers in the room gathered into a circle to read their prepared statements as part of the Gateway to Change conference about economic and racial problems.

“It had never occurred to some students and some teachers that people of color face these things all the time,” Hanan-West said. “White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t had a hard life. It means that the color of your skin is not something that is making your life harder.”

Two teachers and six students represent the local community to learn more about adversities that minorities encounter every day, including freshman Connor Gusky.

“[The conferences] have made me want to do something. It’s made me want to help out and just be a better person, the best that you can be for yourself and for the community,” Gusky said.

Gateway to Change is put on by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) and was created to unite the divided community after the death of Michael Brown.

White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t had a hard life. It means that the color of your skin is not something that is making your life harder.”

— Kim Hanan-West

“Gateway to Change grew out of Michael Brown’s death, in order to get students across the metropolitan area to talk to one another and to discuss not just racial issues, but economic issues and LGBTQ community issues. We do really hard work. We talk about things that make us profoundly uncomfortable, but in a safe environment,” Hanan-West said.

NCCJ’s mission is to “promote inclusion for all people.” At each conference students and teachers take part in different activities to learn about social issues.

One of the activities that the students participated in was the Game of Life. Every student received an envelope, which determined their status in life. They were given a certain amount of money, education and opportunities.

“It was a struggle to rise out of poverty. The kids would get so frustrated. They really see the effect of poverty. They see the effect of class, gender, race and sexual orientation. They see what impact it has on others lives,” Hanan-West said.

In the Game of Life, each envelope contained markings that tipped off the sponsors on how to treat the students, unbeknownst the students. If you were in a lower social class, you received different opportunities.

“It was interesting to see the different things people had to go through when you’re not used to being on the bottom of the social class. I was on the bottom and being stuck was something that I’ve never really had. I’ve always been able to work my way up,” Gusky said.

Freshman A’Lienna Brown was another one of the six students who attended the conferences. She believes the conference helped her become more open-minded and considerate.

“It showed me that people can be victimized,” Brown said. “Not everything is what it looks like. Even if it looks like someone is higher than others, they still might have something going on in their lives.”

While students have attended the conference in the past, Hanan-West feels she has an opportunity to continue to inform the next generation on how to be inclusive and fair, and she wants to take full advantage of this opportunity.

“I feel like I’m in a unique position to unite students on these issues and to show that we have more in common than we have different. I’m also able to help students to develop empathy for people that are not like them,” Hanan-West said. “I feel that that’s my personal responsibility; to embody empathy and understanding within my students, to lead them to that empathy and understanding because, ultimately, a kid who has those qualities is going to be an adult who has those qualities.”

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