Our First Year-long Field Exchange Program

This academic year, we launched our first field exchange program between Fieldston School in Bronx, NY and Swain County High School in Bryson City, NC. Anchored in the Narrative 4 story exchange, the field exchange is designed to address perceived divides between students living in different neighborhoods… cities… states… countries. Students from each school travel to the other to exchange stories, culture and build relationships. During a week filled with literature, history, music, visual art and creative writing, empathy fills the divides. Then, the students are tasked with finding ways to turn this empathy into action in their lives, communities and the world.

In October, ten Swain County students traveled to NYC to meet their peers at Fieldston. In the weeks prior, the students connected by Skype and addressed the many labels standing between them: liberal, conservative, urban, rural, private, public. When they met, during museum visits, workshops, and subway rides, the labels faded and the students became close friends. Strong relationships were built. ‘Mission: Empathy Building’ accomplished.

The year-long pilot project continued this April in Swain County when the Fieldston students traveled down to North Carolina to reconnect with their partners. This time around, subways were traded for white water rafts and latin food in Spanish Harlem was traded for a traditional Cherokee meal at the tribe’s ancestral birthplace. The itinerary included a hike at the Road to Nowhere, strawberry picking at Darnell Farms, a meeting with Principal Chief Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and more.

Narrative 4 hosted a regional literary festival featuring power-house authors Ron Rash, Colum McCann, David Joy, Silas House, Wiley Cash, Pam Duncan, and Robert Gipe in Swain County High School’s arts center. Musical interludes were provided by Somebody’s Child and Beverly Smith. Before the festival, the authors gave intimate workshops to educators and students from the region.

Most importantly, the participants’ second week together was aimed at turning their empathy into action. We launched a collaboration with Mikva Challenge aimed at creating an ’empathy into action’ curriculum that can be scaled and used by Narrative 4 facilitators around the world. The students identified their personal values, the assets they have that support those values, and how they can use these tools to create positive change.

We’re excited to improve this curriculum and design a catalyst that moves young adults to lead with empathy and improve the world around them. Stay tuned for more field exchange programs between Narrative 4 schools around the world.