Pathways to Perception Lesson Plan

By Victoria Mills and Kathy Leichter

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. The minute you start changing the way you think about yourself, you’re going to change.”
—Kimara Dawson, former Child Advocate, Sheltering Arms, Bronx, NY, featured in the documentary Like Any Other Kid

The Pathways to Perception lesson plan is based on footage that was not included in the documentary Like Any Other Kid but provides an up-close look at a group activity with youth in a semi-secure facility. We offer several activities that could be paired with the video that provide an opportunity to reflect on how incarcerated youth might perceive themselves because of the systemic oppressions they have experienced and the role that self-perception—how we see ourselves and how we think others see us—plays in all of our lives.

Welcome and Check-In (10-15 minutes)
A check-in can help to make people in a classroom feel more cohesive as a group and set the stage for a more comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. For this activity, the facilitator poses a question that everyone, including the facilitator, responds to. Some examples of questions are “How are you feeling?” “What is your favorite song?” “What is your favorite color?” “Cartoon character?” “Movie star?” A check-in allows students to open up and speak from a more personal perspective while they also learn something about others in the group. By taking the "temperature" of a group, a check-in can build a sense of community and has the potential to help the group feel more connected while providing insight and humor. This activity is also a form of experiential learning: students engage in an activity done by youth in facilities that use the Missouri Approach, which underscores that, in fact, there are similarities between the students in the classroom and the students in the facility, who are “like any other kid.”

Watch the “Pathway to Perception” Video (8:16 minutes)
This video takes place in a facility for girls in The Bronx, NY. Staff show a group a drawing that can be perceived in two different ways—as a frog or a horse—depending on how you look at it, and ask the youth to describe what they see. The youth are also asked to examine how they are seen by others and how they see themselves. This is a concrete, effective, and playful way to reflect on our own self-perception and explore questions such as, “Does perception equal reality? Or do others’ perceptions equal reality?” By examining the concept of perception, youth reflect upon how one gets past stereotypes, societal stigma, and intergenerational incarceration.

To access this clip, use the following URL and password.
Password: mysi

At the end of the video there are five discussion questions. While these prompts may be useful, if educators are pressed for time, we recommend working on the activities below instead.

Small Group Discussion Activity (at least 20 minutes)
This activity places students in small groups, so each person has a chance to contribute. The following questions ask students to reflect on the video and explore how it relates to their own life, no matter what their individual circumstances are.

  1. Describe some moments from the film when the young women discuss their desires to change their life pathway? What have you felt or imagined to be out of your reach on your own life pathway?
  2. How did comments from your classmates impact how you felt about yourself? What was helpful and what was harmful?
  3. What is something you saw in a particular way and then your perception and understanding was shifted so you saw it in another way?
  4. According to the video, what makes change difficult? What would you add based on your own experience?

Short Writing Activity and Discussion (at least 30 minutes)
This activity provides an opportunity for the class to focus on the particulars of abolishing the juvenile carceral system and what alternatives might actually meet youths’ needs. Instructors might assign A United Vision for a World Without Youth Prisons to accompany this exercise. This report contains nine recommendations for what could be done differently within communities to support youths’ success. In class, ask the students to pick a recommendation and expand upon it by freewriting (5-7 minutes). After students have completed the freewrite, return to the large group so that they can share what they wrote, ask questions, and explore the reflections  collectively (at least 20 minutes).

The organization No Kids in Prison has created another resource, Youth Visioning Sessions, that contains activities instructors could integrate into this lesson plan.

Victoria Mills, director/producer, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and full-time, practicing psychoanalyst in New York City. Her previous film directing credits include Mothers and Daughters: Mirrors That Bind and Hidden Battles, both of which traveled the national and international festival circuits and had successful impact initiatives with women and girls, and veterans and peace organizations respectively. As an analyst with over 30 years of experience, Victoria has worked extensively with adolescents and adults, including those who have experienced trauma. She is a training analyst, former faculty member, lecturer, and member of the International Psychoanalytic Association, the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. In conjunction with her films, she leads workshops with universities, national organizations, and grassroots community groups. She is currently working on her fourth film.

Kathy Leichter is an award-winning documentary producer, director, engagement strategist, and impact producer with over thirty years working in film and television. She has extensive experience designing and implementing successful outreach and engagement campaigns for documentaries and has produced over 1,000 impact events (in-person and virtual) across the country on issues including racial and economic justice, climate change, mental health, women, civil discourse, juvenile justice, and Jewish identity. Leichter directed and produced A Day’s Work, A Day’s Pay, in association with the Independent Television Service, which follows three welfare recipients in New York City, and designed and directed the film’s 5-year audience engagement campaign. Her most recent film, Here One Day, about mental illness and suicide in Leichter’s family, premiered at IDFA, won Best Documentary and the Jury Prize at the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, and is now the centerpiece of a national screening initiative that Leichter designed and currently directs.