Caryn Lawrence thought about a 15-year-old heroic Pakistani girl who almost lost her life to a gunman for the offense of wanting to go to school. Then she thought about her brother’s best friend, who got shot here in New Haven.
Lawrence (pictured) and her classmates at Metropolitan Business Academy have found inspiration in the tale of the Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai. And they’re trying to make sense of it.
The students held a day of action at Metropolitan on Friday in honor of Malala, who was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for fighting for the right for girls’ education. As she recovers from the Oct. 9 assassination attempt, Malala has ignited a worldwide movement calling attention to an estimated 34 million girls who are denied access to school worldwide.
Malala’s tale invoked a strong reaction when teacher Leslie Blatteau introduced it to her Media Studies class as an unexpected addition to the syllabus. Students dived into the subject for about three weeks, expanding the scope of inquiry to other global injustices such as human trafficking and child labor. Then they set about spreading the word.
Lawrence, a sophomore, wrote her response in Arabic, which she’s studying at school. She said she can empathize with Malala’s injury.
“I know some people who got shot in the head,” she said, including her brother’s best friend, who was 18 at the time. She found it harder to wrap her head around why girls would be denied an education.
“I don’t know why she can’t go” to school, Caryn said. “It’s the 21st Century.”
On Friday, Blatteau’s class set up in the magnet high school’s third-floor library to teach their classmates what they had learned—and attempt to inspire them to action.
Students entering the room got a primer on the subject from members of the Media Studies class.
Yamel Cruceta, a senior, recounted how the Taliban had tried to kill Malala.
“She was just 14” at the time of the shooting, Yamel told a group of 8th graders visiting at Metro as prospective students. “What would you think if you got on the bus and you got shot in the head just for trying to get an education?”
After a startling introduction, students were invited to get involved at various stations set up around the room.
Some jumped on computers, where they learned more about Malala from the website iammalala.org. Malala, an aspiring doctor, has been blogging to advocate for equal access to education for years. Malala spoke out publicly against the Pakistani Taliban, a banned Islamic group, for targeting schools in her Swat Valley region that accept girls. The Taliban avenged her act of defiance by tracking her down and trying to kill her as she was riding a bus home from school with classmates on Oct. 9. Malala miraculously survived after a bullet entered her skull and ricocheted around her body. Knocked unconscious by the attack, Malala is making a remarkable recovery at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, England. She can now walk, write and read.
After watching a video about her, New Haven students typed in messages of support.
“I respect you for wanting to go to school,” wrote one student.
“Stay strong,” wrote a teacher.
At another table, students made posters in support of Malala.
“I am a boy, but I am Malala,” wrote one student.
“I Stand For Equality,” wrote Ana Alencar (pictured), a junior whose family hails from Brazil. She said she had a strong reaction to Malala’s tale.
“I thought it was horrible,” she said. “It made me upset.”
“They injured an innocent little girl who was just fighting for what she deserved.”
At another table, students joined a movement that has spread through social networks: They filled out a sign that read “Girls + Education = ___.” The aim is to move beyond the tragedy of Malala’s attack and send a more affirmative message around the world.
Students also took photos as part of another social network movement, a Twitter hashtag and Facebook page entitled #GirlWithABook. The idea is simple: Women and girls across the world take photos with books, and upload them online.
Yamel (pictured) chose to pose with the book, “Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.”
Christine Puglisi, a junior who took a lead role in organizing Friday’s event, staffed a video camera on a tripod in the rear of the library.
Jorgieliz Casanova (pictured), a senior, sat in front of the camera and took a microphone as Christine asked her to respond to Malala’s story.
“Education is something that should never, ever be excluded from a person’s life,” Jorgieliz declared. Christine asked her what message she would send to Malala.
“I want her to know she is a strong young girl,” Jorgieliz replied. “She is inspiring. For her to be able to impact the world in such a significant way ... this is how change begins. I thank her for that.”
Jorgieliz also got inspired to make a poster.
“Malala may not be able to stand right now,” she wrote, “but I can.”
Christine (pictured) said as a young woman who gets an education for free, she feels a responsibility to take action about the injustices she learned about in class. As part of the Malala unit, Blatteau brought in a Yale professor, Linda Cole-Taylor, to teach kids about efforts to save girls from prostitution in India. Students also compiled statistics on child labor and human trafficking into a PowerPoint presentation.
“Malala is the vehicle that’s making us look at this issue,” Christine said, but the class aims to spread the word about much more. “It’s equal education for all, equal rights for all.”