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Different Schools, Common Stories

October 21, 2016

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the story exchange in action in classrooms and in communities across the country. This week, we hear from N4 student alum Amy Perez, who attended University Heights High School (UHHS) in the Bronx and will be attending Lehman College in January. Recently, Amy joined N4 at a three-school story exchange between UHHS, Fieldston and Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy (SAR) for students to share their interactions with law enforcement.

More than a decade ago, the public high school University Heights and neighboring private school Fieldston started bringing their students together through a program called Classroom Connections. Though located within miles of each other in the Bronx, UHHS and Fieldston have very different student populations. UHHS teacher Lisa Greenbaum informed us that Classroom Connections “created partnerships to bring together students from private and public schools across New York City in an effort to break down stereotypes and put race on the table.” A few years ago, educators invited N4 to lead a story exchange between the schools to continue the program’s goal of creating authentic relationships. The program and the N4 exchange were featured in The New York Times Magazine.

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Since 2014, we’ve continued to work with lead educators Lisa Greenbaum, Lillian De Jesus, and Nancy Banks. The schools have organized this year’s Classroom Connections around community relations, policing, and safety. Amy told us she was especially glad to participate in last month’s exchange because of the theme’s relevance. She was surprised to learn how many students had stories to share. Below, she reflects on her years with N4 and how the story exchange shatters stereotypes.

Several years ago, I joined a program that changed my way of thinking about everything. Little did I know that what I learned would still be a part of my life years later.
 
In all honesty, I enjoyed my high school years only because of N4. I met so many teenagers who led different lives, but that were still similar in different ways. And as the years went by, I would get more excited to spend time with them. I wanted to know their stories. I wanted to have conversations with them about random things and really see how similar we were. And as I got to know them, I realized we were all just a bunch of teenagers with completely different lives, but we all struggle with the same issues. 
 
Returning to Fieldston, I saw so many familiar faces and it made me miss high school. It made me miss my peers from University Heights and all the friends I made throughout the years from SAR and Fieldston. But at the same time, I wanted to know why these kids new to N4 were so interested in being a part of this program. I wanted to be ask them questions and get to know them, too. I wanted to let them know that I was once in their shoes.
 
I remember that I was really excited to meet the students from SAR and Fieldston back when I was in high school, but I was still very nervous. I was nervous because I didn’t know what they were going to think of me, being that I came from a public school and that I’m Hispanic. I used to think that they were going to stereotype the students from UHHS or that they thought less of us because we had less than they had. I didn’t realize that I myself was stereotyping others! I was judging a group of kids without even meeting them.
 
‘Happy’ isn’t enough to describe how I feel to be involved in this program again after two years. Recently, I’ve been feeling the need to do something that can help expand my thoughts and my mind. Being involved in the storytelling workshop helps fulfill that need. I’ve learned how to interact with different kinds of people while learning about myself. And that’s the main reason why I love Narrative 4! 
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