Bridging the Middle School Divide

Bklyn CT exchange

Narrative 4 classrooms share stories across continents. But sharing across state lines can be just as powerful.

Lead teacher Jennifer Place said her public-school students at Hamden, CT’s Wintergreen Magnet School were nervous about their upcoming in-person story exchange with fellow middle schoolers at the private Brooklyn Waldorf School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, NY.

“They asked, ‘Are they like us?’ I told them, yes, they’re probably kids,” she laughed.

Jennifer and her students boarded a bus on a Friday afternoon, leaving their leafy schoolyard and low-slung school, and headed into New York City. They had rehearsed their personal stories – “ranging from traumatic down to light-hearted” – with one another and were as confident as middle-schoolers could be about anything. But by the time they arrived at the vertical expanse of the pre-war building housing Brooklyn Waldorf, they were worried again.

As Jennifer put it: “Remember what 8th grade dances were like?”

But the story exchange worked its magic. Within minutes, students from Wintergreen and Brooklyn Waldorf were chatting away, kindred spirits mingling. “You teared up. They became buddies immediately,” said Jennifer. “The kids had these assumptions – in the city, private school. Their ideas were proven wrong.”

Shoshana Perry, a mindfulness specialist who has led many story exchanges with N4’s Lee Keylock over the years, was instrumental in bringing N4 to the Brooklyn Waldorf School, where her daughter is a student. The key, she said, were middle school teachers “feeling the need for the empathy muscle to be recognized as a muscle.”

The students will be meeting again in May, this time at the Wintergreen Magnet School. Rumor has it that art will be involved.

More from Narrative 4 around the globe:

4/24/17 –A Culture of Caring in South Africa

4/14/17 – “A Tool for Culturally Responsive Learning”

4/7/17 – Creating a Narrative for Loss in Limerick

3/28/17 – Cross-cultural Classroom Magic in Mexico and Chicago

3/21/17 – Building Resilience in North Philadelphia

3/14/17 – Empathy in Israel

3/7/17 – Student Leaders SCHout for Diversity

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