Middle School Scientists Embrace the Exchange – February 19, 2017

“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” – TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS 

It has always been our aim at Narrative 4 to help “expand the lungs of the world.”   This can happen most profoundly when we help bring different schools together, as we have been priviliged to do numerous times in Ireland, Israel, Mexico, South Africa and across the U.S.  

This month  students from Amity Middle School in Connecticut had a chance to exchange stories with Hartford’s Breakthrough Middle School and the results were astounding.  The schools — led by middle school science teachers Kathy Habersang and Brian M. Goldstein — were brought together as part of an  inter-district grant.  The grant is designed to foster collaboration between demographically different schools.   

“The students in the schools were struggling to make connections with one another,” recalled Goldstein.  “We needed to change our approach drastically.”  

What better way than for these young people to make an agile step into one another’s worlds? 

Amity and Breakthrough Magnet Schools

Consider this beautiful reflection, by a student from the Breakthrough Magnet School:

Before the field trip I felt excited but also very anxious. The idea of getting to meet people sounded fun until I actually thought about the fact that I’m not used to that type of thing. I’ve been in a school with the same kids since I was two. I was worried that my usually outgoing persona would fade as soon as I left my own school – my comfort zone.

My teacher gave us a paper to write down our story but when I did, he said it sounded like an essay. So, I ripped it up, threw it out . . . and decided maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I tried to speak from my heart instead. 

Sharing a personal story with strangers (I had two partners) made me feel at ease with them. Skipping the small talk made us form a deeper connection. It made the whole ordeal seem less artificial, like I was drinking coffee and chatting with some friends.

Hearing my story through another person made me feel validated: when the words were coming out of her mouth and not my own, it made me realize that I wasn’t being stupid or silly for feeling what I had been feeling when the story happened. Telling my partner’s story made me feel important because I was letting her voice be heard. I was the first to go and her story was a bit sad, so it felt like I was setting the tone for the rest of the circle. We got to share deep stories because there was a sense of respect for our personal struggles. I felt empowered hearing others’ stories because two others’ stories shared a common theme as my own – the feeling of not being “good enough” because we were girls (viewed as weak, fragile, etc), and how we overcame it.

Breakthrough Magnet and Amity middle schools

After the field trip, I felt understood. It was like I wasn’t alone in my experiences now that I had shared them. I was thinking that this project should be done everywhere. It made me want to go out and socialize me. 

I would recommend this program to the entire country. I think that if people opened their minds to others’ experiences there’d be more love. When people attempt to understand other’s experiences, they expand their knowledge of people who are different than them. This can lead to greater levels of tolerance and appreciation for diversity.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to do this.

More from Narrative 4 around the globe:

2/10/17 – An Intergenerational Story Exchange in Ireland, a National Magazine Award in New York

2/3/17 – Connecting at UConn

1/27/17 – Students in Mexico Open Up About Living with Violence

1/20/17 – Narrative 4 Gun Awareness Documentary Nominated for National Magazine Award

1/13/17 – Narrative 4 Limerick Rings in the New Year with Readings

1/6/17 – Young Journalists Exchange Stories with Locals in Costa Rica