AP English students share what they would fight for through a social justice project


AP English Language teacher Lisa Penninga believes everyone has a mountain they want to climb.

Her students recently completed a social justice project where they could pick any topic of their choice as long as they were passionate about it and willing to fight for their cause, all centered around this idea.

“Everyone should have something that they’re passionate about,” Penninga said. “Everyone should have that mountain that they’re going to climb. We can make a difference in our community and in society, and I just think this project was inspirational in the way it brought so many things to light.”

When students were picking what they were most passionate about, Penninga did not want them holding back. Many of the issues discussed were strong problems in society today, and even though people’s opinions may differ from topic to topic, the mutual respect for one another’s passions was a beautiful thing for her to see. 

Students in Penninga’s AP English Language handled themselves with grace while listening to the other presentations, and, in doing so, they were able to have an open mind which is crucial when taking part in this learning experience. Penninga believes her students did a phenomenal job at respecting and admiring each other’s projects, even if they did not agree. 

“I was most proud of my students because a lot of the topics they choose were not easy to talk about,” Penninga said. “Everything is very divided in our world right now, but, despite that, it was just really nice to see students come in with an open mind. In many ways, I think having so many different issues actually intrigued them more than anything else when listening to their peers’ videos.”

Everyone should have something that they’re passionate about. Everyone should have that mountain that they’re going to climb.

— Lisa Penninga

A few examples of the topics that were covered included, racism, mental health through multiple lenses, transphobia, genocide, and many other social justice issues.  

Penninga feels it takes a lot of courage to speak your truth, and she was immensely proud of her students for accomplishing this task.

Junior Lauren Speicher, one of those students who undoubtedly did amazing on her project in Penninga’s eyes, decided to cover the topic of mental health issues. 

She felt that mental illnesses needed to be more normally discussed in order for people to understand what they truly are and how damaging they can be, and her presentation adequately highlighted these topics. 

“I tried to take this as an opportunity to talk about something I am passionate about,” Lauren said, “because that’s how Penninga kind of pitched it to us, so deciding to do my social justice project on the stigma behind mental health issues was a relatively easy decision for me. I used my personal experiences such as friends that struggle with anxiety and even depression as fuel for my project as I continued to research.” 

The research aspect was something students were able to enjoy because it was a topic of their choice and it not only allowed them to expand on their own knowledge but also to share their findings with the rest of the class. 

“Even though I am definitely passionate about this topic and have that kind of baseline knowledge,” Lauren said, “what I really liked about this is that it gave me the opportunity to take something I know I am passionate about but then learn more in-depth about it and ultimately turn around and teach it to others. I think that was the most fulfilling part of the whole experience.”

Junior Maurielle Hayes agrees with Lauren that the research aspect of the project was a little daunting but still a very enlightening experience. 

For her topic, she decided to discuss racism. She chose that as her broader topic, but she specifically talked about how racism is still alive today, even past the obvious historical racist acts. 

“I am in a minority myself,” Maurielle said, “so I felt like it would be easier for me to talk about, but I also picked it because I liked the challenge of talking about such a severe topic in the first place, and this was something I am definitely able to go into detail about due to my passion for the topic.” 

Maurielle’s favorite part of the project, aside from being able to share her own thoughts and opinions on racism in an environment that is prepared to retain the information she is sharing, was actually being on the flip side of that and being able to take in the new information she was learning.

“I really enjoyed learning about all these severe topics,” Maurielle said, “and I feel like it made me a lot more aware of some things that maybe before I knew about but did not put too much thought into; now, I am actively thinking about.” 

Bringing awareness was one of the most important aspects of this social justice project, and Penninga was thrilled at the outcome and effort her students put into it. 

“My hope is that this is just the first of many more opportunities for my students to voice their opinions,” Penniga said. “I always say my students are going to change the world, and I truly believe it.”