Student Leaders SCHout for Diversity – March 3, 2017

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.” – PEARL S. BUCK

The best teachers know that real change always comes from the ground up.  If young people are given a chance to showcase their own initiatives, they will change the world.    

That’s what the young people at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) outside of Philadelphia, PA, knew intuitively when they asked Polly Kimberly, the upper school’s diversity coordinator, if they could organize their own diversity conference built around the story exchange.

SCHout leaders

Springside Chestnut Hill’s Sam Gerlach, Maggie King, and Mel Graves, leaders of the Student Facilitators and the SCHout conference.

The students had already facilitated school-wide story exchanges under Kimberly’s guidance for SCH’s annual “Day of Understanding.”   It was such a success that the students wanted to share what they’d experienced with peers from other schools.  

“The kids wanted to host THE BEST conference,” said Kimberly.  “They felt they could distinguish themselves.”

And so the SCHout diversity conference, designed and led by students for students, was born. The second annual SCHout conference was held this month, attracting students from all over the region for story exchanges and activism training.

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SCH Academy senior, Student Facilitator and two-time SCHout leader Mel Graves shares her reflections:

The Springside Chestnut Hill Academy SCHout 2017 diversity conference was the culmination of months of hard work and commitment. It was exciting to see our work come to life and to be in a space full of love, understanding, and radical empathy.

This year’s theme “How do you define freedom?” served as a catalyst for conversation throughout the day. Our keynote speaker Rosetta Lee kicked off the day by engaging the room in an activity aimed at recognizing celebrating our differences and the things that make each of us diverse. The positive energy and educational spirit she started us off with had a continual presence throughout the conference.

The first activity that took place in our twelve home groups was a story exchange. I’ve participated in the story exchange a total of nine times now, but each experience is just as profound as the next. In the story exchange everyone is paired up and exchanges a story from their life that highlights a core identifier of theirs, then you go back to your home group and share your partner’s story from the “I” perspective. I always question whether or not I am doing my partner’s story justice when I share it out to the group. When I am listening to my own story I am always looking for the things my partner adds in that I didn’t necessarily say, and how those things fit right into the story and shine a new light on it. I also observe rest of the group; body language and facial expressions sometimes are the most revealing signs of emotion in this situation. This feeling that is created is what we call “radical empathy,” something that only the SCHout conference brings out in its participants. The story exchange gives a new meaning to the power of having your own narrative.

SCHout exchange

In the second half of the day participants had the opportunity to participate in two student-led social action workshops. The workshop topics, ten in total, ranged from “Gender and Consent” to “Islamophobia in the US” to “Toxic Masculinity.” The students who ran these workshops were charged with the responsibility of connecting the conference’s theme of freedom to a core identifier of their choosing. The title of my workshop was “Predetermined Destination: An exploration of race and freedom.” I wanted to focus on the question of whether race and the idea of freedom play a role in people’s lives. . . . It was rewarding to see my efforts and the hard work of my peers come to life at this conference and for it to be so well received. I truly believe that the SCHout 2017 conference inspired its participants to build bonds, take action, and to be fearless in finding a voice to do so.

More from Narrative 4 around the globe:

2/26/17 – Creating One Military and Civilian Family at West Point

2/19/17 – Middle School Scientists Embrace the Story Exchange

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