Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

List of Civics + Humanities Middle Grades Grants

Grants Awarded in 2024

Implementation Grants 

City of San Diego Middle School Civics Program 
City of San Diego 
Project Director: Leslie McNabb 

City of San Diego Middle School Civics Program focuses on unhoused and foster middle school students to provide an introduction to public service, work readiness skills, and an understanding of city government. The summer 2024 and 2025 programs will give middle school students an opportunity to learn from, and work with, City employees in various departments such as library or police. They will learn about city challenges, how to approach them, and research solutions departments could implement. Students will discover how they can actively engage in civic life and create a sense of identity within their communities, all while learning of the benefits of a career in public service. Resources for clothing and school supplies will be provided to support participants in the upcoming school year. Ultimately, middle school students will be encouraged to apply for City internships when they are 16 and coached to gain permanent employment with the City of San Diego. The City of San Diego Middle School Program is an expansion of the existing City of San Diego Civics Internship Program (ages 16-30), launched in Summer 2023 as a part of the City’s Employ & Empower Program, with funding by the state’s #CaliforniansForAll initiative.  

Youth Voices: Exploring Identity and Representation Through Filmmaking 
Film Independent, Los Angeles 
Project Director: Sarah Berkovich 

Film Independent will build upon previous research planning project to implement a sixth-grade film and humanities curriculum exploring issues of representation and identity in visual media. Mentors (professional filmmakers who have gone through their Artist Development programs) will conduct a series of four media literacy and production lessons for up to 30 sixth graders at John Muir Middle School in South Los Angeles. The students will learn about how media represents point of view and can highlight different identities, including through viewing and discussing Mentors’ films. They will then apply their learnings to create their own media projects on a related humanities topic of their choosing related to representation and identity. The project will culminate in a fieldtrip to Film Independent, where the students will participate in a capstone activity and celebrate their work by viewing their projects in a real theater. This curriculum will help sixth-grade students examine different voices in storytelling, think critically about the media they consume, and be empowered to find their unique voices and places in broader society through storytelling. Ultimately, the goal is to build the foundation for a more inclusive social narrative representative of diverse voices in our communities.

We’re Still Here! East Palo Alto Youth Speak 
EPACENTER, East Palo Alto 
Project Director: Nadine Rambeau 

EPACENTER presents a community media and storytelling project entitled We’re Still Here! East Palo Alto Youth Speak. This project will spark a love for learning among middle school-aged youth by combining fun, engaging activities such as media production and multimedia storytelling, to delve into civics and humanities right in their own backyards. With a changing landscape and many families of color being displaced due to gentrification, this project will highlight the voices of young people whose families have been in East Palo Alto for generations and are “still here.”  EPACENTER will bring in award-winning humanities advisor Kameelah Rasheed, born and raised in East Palo Alto, to lead a series of weekend workshops that explore the history of East Palo Alto and current issues impacting residents’ daily lives. Rasheed will then introduce youth to a range of platforms for artistic expression and storytelling. In partnership with local media, newspapers, and archival nonprofits, youth will create a multimedia series that highlights the history, culture and current day issues of East Palo Alto from young people’s perspectives culminating in a capstone event at EPACENTER.  

Learning Civics + Humanities through Film 
San Francisco Film Society (SFFILM) 
Project Director: Keith Zwolfer 

SFFILM will provide over 1,200 middle school students with access to high caliber and thought-provoking documentary films that focus on cultural identity and civic engagement through its Schools at Doc Stories education program. The project will develop media literacy and bring awareness of current world events with in-person viewing opportunities of documentary films by current filmmakers, augmented with post-film in-person discussions with culture bearers and topic experts where students can analyze, discuss, process and use critical thinking skills in a group setting. Past Doc Stories films shown (like the series We The People that combined music and animation, and guests for the Q&A including series creator and Peabody awardee Chris Nee) have focused on civic engagement, social justice, social movements, political science, women and gender studies, diversity, equity, and government. Study guides developed by a middle school teacher will provide pre- and post-discussion activities. Topics for discussion will emerge through classroom exchange with students including surveys to help select films and speakers to address subjects and issues relevant to the lives and experiences of middle grades students in California today. 
Uplifting Young Muslim Voices 
New Horizon School, Pasadena 
Project Director: Leonard Elick 

The goal of this program is to develop in each student a positive identity as an American Muslim who is prepared intellectually, socially, emotionally, and spiritually to succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world. Social issues, domestically and internationally, affect the way students feel and how they view themselves in the world. This is especially true in spaces in which their local communities challenge or malign their identities. This project will have students address social issues in two contexts: 1) an international issue that is affecting their lives here in California; and 2) a local issue affecting the larger community. Their final project will be to write a letter to local government officials offering alternative policies to tackle both issues, highlighting their own personal and community stories. These letters will be documented through film and shared widely with local organizations and leaders. This project will empower young Muslim leaders to find their voice and share it with the broader community. Students will spend time in self-reflection, exploring their identity and their place in society, while also learning about public policy and community engagement.  

Planning Grants

A PATH FORWARD: The Umunhum Trail 
Montalvo Association, Saratoga 
Project Director: Cynthia Taylor 

In the summer of 2024, Montalvo Arts Center will unveil a permanent Ohlone Territory Living Land Acknowledgement Monument on their grounds titled “A Path Forward.” The Hummingbird public sculpture, a key figure in the Ohlone creation story, is one of seven sacred points along Santa Clara County Park’s trail system that will guide visitors to stations providing augmented reality (AR) experiences and prompts that engage them with artistic, cultural, and scientific content specific to the grounds and forest. Montalvo’s Outreach & Education Department will create a two to three-hour middle school field trip and accompanying study guide in partnership with the Santa Clara County Office of Education for, A Path Forward: The Umunhum Trail, an exploration and celebration of the interdependent relationships of culture and nature. The multi-disciplinary activities and learnings developed for this project will support integrated learning, empathy, and connection with indigenous traditions. With the Umunhum (the Ohlone word for Hummingbird) as an avatar, this program will foster understanding of humankind’s footprint on the land, create civic engagement, and impact environmental stewardship.

Do you know the way to San Jose? 
Lobo School of Innovation, San Jose 
Project Director: Christopher Rivas 

Do You Know the Way to San José? is a collaborative podcasting project between Quimby Oak Middle School’s Lobo School of Innovation (LSI) project-based learning program and History San José. Rooted in the Civics + Humanities Middle Grades grant’s mission, this project empowers California middle schoolers to preserve and interpret San José’s vibrant history, fostering a deep sense of historical appreciation and belonging. Through podcast production, students critically examine local histories, advocating for narratives that foster a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of San José. Aligned with California Humanities’ vision, the initiative nurtures students’ knowledge and understanding of historical figures, sparking thoughtful conversations about the state’s past and sharpening their research, critical thinking, and communication skills. The ultimate aim is to inspire middle schoolers towards civic participation. In essence, “Do You Know the Way to San José? amplifies youth voices, becoming a catalyst for a more interconnected and culturally enriched Californian society. Through the transformation of historical research into engaging podcast episodes, students emerge as storytellers and custodians, contributing significantly to a broader understanding of San José’s heritage in the digital age.  

Centering Linguistic Justice in Creative Writing Workshops  
916 Ink, Sacramento 
Project Director: Christina Nelson

916 Ink will partner with a research fellow and an associate professor from California State University Sacramento to research and advise on the design of an inclusive, humanities-based creative writing program for middle-school students that centers linguistic justice. Planning activities will include focus groups (including 916 Ink staff, service members, and community volunteers), the creation of staff and volunteer training resources, and a curriculum evaluation tool used to examine current and future curricula. This initiative will use an antiracist Black Language pedagogy to intentionally center the linguistic, cultural, racial, intellectual, and self-confidence needs of Black students, recognizing that language experiences are not separate from racial experiences.

Grants Awarded in 2023

Planning Grants

Youth Voices: Exploring Identity and Representation Through Filmmaking
Film Independent Inc, Los Angeles
Project Director: Sarah Berkovich

Film Independent will research and build a program to serve middle schoolers in exploring issues of representation and identity in film/media. The project team will partner with John Muir Middle School (Los Angeles) to conduct focus groups with approximately 60 students about understanding of media and how they identify with on-screen narratives; and engage with their teachers to assess how this program could help enhance topics of civics and humanities courses.

Artists as Changemakers
Kala Art Institute, Berkeley
Project Director: Gisela Insuaste

Kala Art Institute will work with a small research team and youth advisory board to plan and design an arts integrated civics and humanities program for middle school youth (ages 10-14, grades 6-8) focusing on artists as changemakers and creative problem solvers. Kala will work with neighboring schools in the tri-city area where Kala is located and where Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville come together. Building on Kala’s Artists-in-Schools, field trips, and onsite youth art programs, the project will combine studio art practices for middle school students with walking tours, podcasts, and storytelling that will ground us in neighborhood history and provide a platform for youth to explore subjects and issues relevant to their lives and the world around them.

Telling Our Story: Chicano Park
Outside the Lens, San Diego
Project Director: Liliana Hueso

Outside the Lens will develop a program for youth in grades 6-8 to study Chicano Park, learning its history and how the practice of civil disobedience at this site can serve as a model for present-day civic engagement. Students will study the history of Barrio Logan and Chicano Park, the Chicano mural movement, histories of civil disobedience, and elements of architecture and urban studies. Students will document their work through digital photography and video, answering the question, What can we do to create a better world?

Implementation Grants

Anne Frank: A History for Today traveling exhibit and peer learning in Los Angeles area schools
Anne Frank Los Angeles
Project Director: Margrit Polak

Anne Frank: A History for Today is a unique traveling exhibit created by Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and hosted by local schools. The project uses peer to peer learning to teach the history of the Holocaust from the perspective of Anne Frank and her family Middle school student docents in the Los Angeles region will be trained to lead tours of the exhibit for their classmates, to better understand the dangers of racism and antisemitism, the importance of democracy and freedom for defending the rights of all citizens and how bystanders can become upstanders.

Project Citizen: Empowering Community Engagement
Center for Civic Education, Calabasas
Project Director: Donna Phillips

Teachers will facilitate The Project Citizen: Empowering Community Engagement (PCECE) for approximately 100 students, who will engage cooperatively as a class to identify a problem in their community, research alternative public policy-based solutions, and develop and present a solution to others in their community. In addition to increased knowledge of public policy and government, students of PCECE will demonstrate improved civic and cooperation skills and increased community engagement. Upon the completion of this project, newly created resources will be available for classes beyond this cohort, further increasing inclusion and benefits.

Amplifying Sanctuary Voices: Exploring Migration Project
East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Berkeley
Project Director: Daphne Morgen

This project will build on Amplifying Sanctuary Voice’s (ASV) rich repository of multimedia migration stories to create resource guides for middle school educators and students. ASV will partner with its youth advisory board to adapt existing materials for middle school students and develop lesson plans with activity ideas and discussion prompts. ASV will organize interactive classroom presentations and field trips to its exhibits and to community-based nonprofit organizations. Their curriculum will expose students to first-person narratives, highlighting different aspects of home and displacement and representing people from different countries living in California.

SF Japantown Then and Now
GenRyu Arts, San Francisco
Project Director: Melody Takata

SF Japantown Then and Now is a program that explores a San Francisco neighborhood and community that has continuously faced discrimination, oppression and displacement in the last 117 years. Drawing from experiences of different generations of Japanese Americans, youth in the program will engage with community members, artists, and activists who will share about social justice challenges and triumphs in their efforts to preserve its history, cultural identity, and home within the neighborhood of Japantown from 1900s to today. As youth learn about the history of Japantown, they will reflect and share stories of Japanese Americans at public Youth Showcases.

Kosokehkimal – Indigenous education and field trip program
Mariposa County Arts Council Inc.
Project Director: Clay River

The Mariposa County Arts Council (Arts Council) will implement a field trip program to Wahhoga Village, the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation’s Teaching & Healing Center, in Yosemite National Park for middle school youth in Mariposa County. As part of a free, spring/summer day camp program, youth will spend five sequential days at Wahhoga participating in apprenticeship education from Tribal Elders and Indigenous educators. In this way, students will learn about/experience Miwuk history, culture, Tribal archeology, language, music, and contributions to medicine, arts and land stewardship. Ultimately, this experience will deepen students’ understanding of the historical and contemporary issues surrounding cultural resilience and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples through the complicated lens of the National Park Service.


District-Wide American Music History Course
Music Preserves Foundation, Santa Ana
Project Director: Patti Compton

This project will develop a fully online interactive American Music History course that instills students with an appreciation for diverse cultural history and the civic engagement required by multiple generations of young people to move our society forward. Students will learn history from diverse perspectives and connect the dots between music, art, and civic engagement throughout American history. Students will encounter the Great Depression and the New Deal through country and folk music, study the era of segregation through rock and roll, see the era of civil rights riots through Motown, and study black pride through soul music.

Building Empathy
Pasadena Educational Foundation
Project Director: Sehba Sarwar

Building Empathy will engage 130 middle school students in the Pasadena Unified School District to explore civil liberties issues. Students and teachers will study different communities’ histories and engage in research of past and present struggles for civil rights. The project will take place during school hours in classrooms and field trips to museums and cultural sites. A vital aspect of this project will be peer learning. High school students who are currently participating in a similar project will work with middle school students to share their own learning, research, writing, artwork, and other forms of expression on the theme of civil liberties and civic engagement.

Building an Ethos of Care: Listening to and Documenting Lessons from Elders
Bay Area Writing Project 
Project Director: Hillary Walker

Building an Ethos of Care focuses explicitly on the theme of care as civic participation. During summer youth programming, the project will support middle school students to take on the role of citizen photojournalists, exploring and capturing, through conversations and images, how the idea of care can be both an aim and end result of civic discourse and action. Students will interview elders, learn photography, and create photo essays that explore questions like: How do we care for each other, and what are the implications for civic issues? How have our elders experienced care in their lifetimes, and what lessons might they share?

Empowering Civics in Middle School
Riverside Unified School District
Project Director: Carolyn Power

Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) will expand its civics education program, currently offered at the high school level, to the middle school level. Students in grades 7 and 8 will learn to write a speech about a topic they care about or complete a civic engagement project about an important topic in their community. RUSD will implement Mikva Challenge civics curricula and engage their professional development services to train teachers and students. Students will showcase their work at two events hosted by RUSD: a fall Soapbox Riverside event and a Spring Civics Showcase.

Telling Our Stories Across Generations
Voice of Witness, San Francisco
Project Director: Erin Vong

In this seven-week program, students from Willie L. Brown Middle School and seniors from Sequoia Living engage in a series of interview-based storytelling and community building exercises. The project theme is ’How Did We Get Here’? and focuses on stories of howstudents, seniors, and their families came to the Bay Area, as well as their current relationships to this place. In initial sessions, students and seniors ask each other: What was your journey to this country or community like? In subsequent weeks, students will unearth new layers of the story through prompts and activities, including a culminating field trip to the Oakland Museum of California where students and seniors will experience the exhibitions together and make connections between California history and their own lives.

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