Thirteen years ago, Horace Hall started a program that gives African-American and Latino youth a way to make their voices heard.
R.E.A.L. (Respect, Excellence, Attitude, Leadership)—a name chosen by the original group of students—is all about relevance, cultural identity, and constructive action. “These kids, all growing up in tough environments, want to do well. They want to ‘become somebody,’ but they don’t know how to get there,” says Hall, an associate professor in the College of Education. “We help them see their options, to make sense of the world and of their own feelings, so they can imagine a future.”
In a typical R.E.A.L. program, 15 to 20 high school students (most are volunteers; some are selected by administrators or teachers) meet during the school day for 60 to 90 minutes, once or twice a week, for a semester or a school year. During the course of the program, they work through three strands or levels of awareness and engagement, as Hall explains.
“The first strand is expression. African-American and Latino adolescents have a lot of issues, both personal and environmental, they want to discuss. During R.E.A.L. sessions, they can speak without fear of judgment. They’re required to put together arts-based projects—videos, photographs, poetry, hip-hop songs—and, in doing that, reveal something true and authentic about themselves. When they share their work, we all gain a better understanding of each other. A lot of mentoring programs address academics or job preparation, but we focus on cultural competency.
“The second strand is critical pedagogy. We help the students understand socio-political issues that affect them. For example, we might talk about incarceration rates for African-American and Latino men. Or we might discuss the community disruption caused by gentrification. An ‘aha moment’ happens when they make the connection: School can be a space for escaping those situations. They begin to understand the systems and structures that could be empowering if the students knew how to navigate them. At this point, we’re collaboratively constructing knowledge and making sense of the world.
“Finally, the third strand is civic engagement. By the end of the program, we expect the students to ‘speak their reality’ to their peers at school or even to the local community. This typically takes the form of forums, presentations, or petitions. In fact, it’s through these activities that we can tell whether we’ve had an impact on the students.”
Since 2000, Hall has delivered R.E.A.L. to 15 to 20 high schools on the South and West sides of the city. He recruits DePaul students, both graduate and undergraduate, to be part of the program. Initially, they observe, and then they help develop curriculum and lead sessions. One of those students, Khloe Battle (BA '14), describes her experience:
"I grew up in Englewood, so I could relate to the issues these kids live with. At first, the students weren't trusting, of course. Many are constantly let down by people they're supposed to be able to count on. But pretty quickly, they opened up and made it clear that they wanted more out of life.
"Now, I‘m an advocate for the R.E.A.L. program. When I start teaching, I plan to bring Professor Hall's methods to my classroom. By the end of the program, it was obvious that the students had a more positive and optimistic mindset. And I left with an understanding and openness, along with a pinch of humility.”
Recently, Hall added some tutoring in literacy to the program’s agenda with the help of his colleague Beverly Trezek, an associate professor in the College of Education. As Hall says, “Before you can organize, you have to get yourself together intellectually.”