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Identity in our Middle School Human Development Program
By Dr. Lee Herzog, Tracy Wallace, and Christopher Brown, MS Human Development Department

In Human Development, students are provided a safe space to reflect on themselves and their communities. By examining changes and choices, students use critical thinking skills to further inform themselves, looking at self and other, as well as the interactions that connect them with their community and beyond. Using media, lecture, and readings as content, students process information through class discussions, activities and, journals.

In 7th Grade Human Development, we began explorations and understanding around the topic of Identity in September. What is clear is that 7th graders  are often just coming into a developing understanding of self-awareness around their specific identities and what Identity might mean to them. We have defined specific exercises delineating the differences in meaning of each of these words: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity. Then we have the students move into break-out groups to discuss their own personal perspectives on their Culture, Race, and Ethnicity. By the end of these introductory lessons, the 7th Grade students have some experience with how these topics may relate to their personal view of identity. We continue to explore the meaning of further aspects of Identity through a variety of discussions and activities.

We also explore broad identity categories like race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, ability, education, family structure, and language. Students work in groups to identify which of these categories are visible, which are invisible, and why this matters. We take a close look at the social construction of race and historically why people were put into racial groups. We have ongoing discussions about identifying and confronting institutionalized racism and what we can do when racism shows up in our class. These discussions and activities lead to an exploration of a student's own “Identity Wheel” project where we delve into what aspects of their identity they are comfortable sharing and what aspects they are not. 

In 8th Grade Human Development we explore identity as a more advanced concept. Students are preparing for more young adult experiences that may occur during high school. By further exploration of our Ancestry and Identity maps, we engage with the complex topics surrounding peer-to-peer relationships, community perceptions, and interactions. Additionally, students explore gender, identity, orientation, body image, body dysmorphia, body positivity, diversity in appearance, and the various manifestations they present as given cultural context. Students participate in writing and discussion activities exploring relationships, the empowerment of positive choices, the impacts of substances/intoxicants, as well as physical and mental maturity. Stressing the interconnectivity of communities, we expose students to different types of people, opinions, views, and understandings of the world for awareness. 

Diversity is demonstrated in this area through the variety of cultures represented through this process. 

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