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Activity 2: Overcoming Obstacles to Success
This activity will help students explore how personal factors beyond their control, like race, class, and athletic ability, may affect their opportunities for education. Students can learn from the perceptions and attitudes of their fellow classmates.


Before beginning Activity 2, you may want to share the following information taken from Help! A Family's Guide to High School and Beyond by Susan M. Quattrociocchi, Ph.D.

Happy and successful people:

  • Know who they are.
  • Know what is important to them.
  • Work with others on something larger than themselves.
  • Are caring and connected.
  • Are skilled and effective.

Additional materials: index cards and a table

  1. Assign workshop participants to small discussion groups of three or four.
  2. Multiply the total number of student groups by seven to get the number of index cards needed for this exercise.
  3. Write the words or phrases from columns A and B found below on the cards. Begin by making one set of cards for each phrase in column A and another set for each phrase in column B. Repeat this process until you have seven cards for each group of students. On the back side of each card, write the phrase's corresponding row number.
  4. Sort cards by number, so that you have seven stacks of a single number (i.e., one stack with phrases from row #1, another with phrases from row #2). Shuffle, so that each stack is in random order, and place each stack in a separate area around a table.
  5. Ask a representative from each discussion group to go around to each of the seven areas, pick the top card, and return to their group. They should each have seven cards-one of each number.
  6. Tell workshop participants to imagine a hypothetical student with attributes reflected by the seven cards and to discuss within their groups what they think their cards say about this person and what the various issues would mean to this person's future success.
  7. Come back together as a large group and discuss what happened.
  8. If participants have viewed the full documentary, ask them which students from the film they think will be successful, unsuccessful, and why. How do their perceptions of the students' success correlate with what they know about their backgrounds? What does this reveal about workshop participants' own bias?

Column A
Stereotypes of Advantage
Column B
Stereotypes of Disadvantage
1. One or both parents went to college 1. Neither parent went to college
2. Born in the U.S. 2. Not born in the U.S.
3. Play at least one varsity sport 3. Play non-varsity sports or no sports
4. Can afford an expensive college 4. Need scholarship help to afford an expensive college education
5. Have musical or artistic talents 5. Do not have musical or artistic talents
6. Not a person of color 6. Person of color
7. Male 7. Female

Note that there are many successful people who can be described with several cards from column B. For instance, Dr. Benjamin Carson, an African American who became the nation's youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, grew up in poverty, the son of a single mother who had only a third grade education. Wilma Mankiller, the first woman in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe, also overcame poverty and forced relocation from Oklahoma to California as part of the government's Indian relocation policy. Mankiller is the former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Puerto Rican born Antonia Novello, the first woman and the first Latina to become the Surgeon General of the U.S. (1990-93), lost her father at the age of eight, was raised by her widowed mother, and suffered from a chronic illness of the colon.

Have the group think of other people who have overcome life obstacles to become successful.

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