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Getting Started at Packer Collegiate Institute

Narrative 4 is in schools and communities across the United States, Mexico, South Africa, Ireland, Israel and beyond. How does our story exchange movement start in these places? Today, we’re bringing you a story from Packer Collegiate Institute and South Africa that takes you back to their start.

We’ll let Allison Bishop, Dean of Students Life and Leadership, at Packer Collegiate Institute explain the rest.

Tell us about your school.

Packer Collegiate Institute is a school that borders on the line of tradition and progressiveness. Historically, we’ve excelled in academia, but as strong as we are doing in academics, we realized that we could be supporting kids better – oversee advising, student leadership, and service work. All of the things was occurring and no one was looking to what the student experience like and where we are supporting them. How were we helping them to become good people? Students can talk the heck out of histories and science, but when it comes to talking about self, they found it more challenging and uncomfortable.

So what did you decide to do?

Three years ago, a group of students started traveling to South Africa to work with Art Works for Youth.

One if their formative experiences is when they were there, they did a N4 story exchange. They came to me in January and had put together a beautiful proposal about why we should have Narrative 4 at Packer, and how their experiences with empathy was very transformative with people they didn’t know. They saw this voice and vacuum for meaningful conversation and wanted to try to do it with people they did know.

In March, the students brought out Lee, and with a couple of students and 8-10 adults in the upper school, and together we all did it. It was phenomenal. I left there, and thought we have to bring this to our students.

Right after that we have a Packer in action day, which is a program that is really centered on diversity work, and the kids led one of the sessions. The experience was overwhelmingly positive. We all wanted more, and we wanted to build spaces for this. So one of the things I started last year was a leadership summit which happens at the end of June. it’s with about 80 kids, a quarter of the population, which is a tipping point. Together, we did a story exchange.

At the summit, the kids came in for brief intro with the seniors modeling it. Then we broke the kids into random groups of 10 people in each group, I trained the kids on how to facilitate and they did  an amazing job. They key is to not making assumptions about the people who you lead, so they feel empowered to take risk and to trust.

We had kids who, as you can expect, were on the surface level and some were deeply personal, and some were what they knew, have the chance to connect with people they never had the chance to connect with,

Was there a particular moment during the story exchange experience that stood out for you?

I think it was when I was telling my partner’s story, I was partnered with a student – it was a student I had no relationship with – and when we met it was about her relationship with her mom. She was always a very shy student, and her relationship with her mom has changed a lot. Now she is getting ready for college, and she is struggling with her separation form her mom. I am a mother of two daughters, and one on one with her, I responded the way as I do as an educator.

But then when I told her story to the group as if I was her, it was very bizarre, but I became very emotional, and I didn’t cry, but when I told her story I started taking on her speech pattern. I told a story about how one day she had a very bad day at school and she couldn’t get ahold of her mom because her mom was working, And as I was telling the story, I felt like it had really happened to me, I could feel it, and as I was telling that story it brought up all of these feelings of what separation was like, I could feel what it was like to want to get ahold of my mom on a cell phone, not something I have ever felt, it was exhausting and powerful and disarming.

Tomorrow's leaders must learn empathy today.

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