What started as a staff-driven collaboration last year between the MCPS Study Circles Program, the YMCA Youth and Family Services, and Paint Branch High School, became a student-led club with two new study circles, 35 students, a new name, and action. “We put up a lot of signs around the school that had really controversial statements on them — things that people felt strongly about, but didn't talk about normally,” says facilitator and Paint Branch senior Andy Brimmer. For six weeks this fall, 35 students came together to ‘ Tell It' . They shared their cultures, questioned each other about stereotypes, and built relationships that crossed over racial and ethnic boundaries. Through this racial lens, students discussed everything from school uniforms to nationalism, pressure from parents to perform well, the achievement gap, and the relationship between students and administrators.
The student facilitators believed that having student-led groups helped generate more honest dialogue among their peers. Senior Hector Neira explains that having student facilitators helps participants open up more. Senior Sarah Kim elaborates, “A lot more school-related issues were able to be addressed, because we had the same level of understanding.”
The experience also helped the facilitators. Sophomore Larissa Irons maintains that facilitating gave her “more of a chance to be in tune with the rest of my peers in my group. It gave me a chance to see outside the box.” Neira learned leadership skills, and to do something that he doesn't usually do. Brimmer found that Tell It, “was a way for me to figure out how I really felt about being a White person among a really diverse group.”
The student facilitators also see how the experience of participating in the study circle changed the perspectives of their peers. Neira recalls, “A lot of them really enjoyed learning about other people's cultures, to see other people's perspectives, the open-mindedness that comes with understanding the way other people see things, and to not be so focused on the way you do things.” Some students, Irons relates, “liked belonging to a group that was so accepting. It was a chance to be heard, to compare different cultures, and to gain new friends; people they would never think of talking to in the hallway.”
Kim speculates that students will now, “be able to initiate a deeper understanding of culture and respect for these cultures, especially since our school is so diverse. I think we've started a change, which is good.” Says Brimmer, “students realized that they could make a change...that they could eliminate barriers in the school.”
Tell It has prioritized two action steps and will meet monthly to continue discussion and action planning. Action steps: