No school here on Monday and Tuesday while the teachers have marathon parent conferences. I don't know if that is an Alaska thing or just peculiar to Unalaska but the kids love having two days off. Not sure how the teachers feel about two days of non-stop parent conferences. :) Last year, the Health teacher spearheaded the formation of a group called Natural Helpers, brought in some trainers, and enlisted the assistance of community folks. The students are learning to help their peers with issues and problems in their lives, with adults serving as backup and mentors. We were going to have a weekend retreat similar to last year's, but with everyone's schedules and overlapping activities, it was not feeling too workable. Instead, we decided to have training on these two non-school days. Honestly, I was not sure how many kids would want to give up their days off for training but we were pleasantly surprised to have 17 adolescents spend part of Monday and Tuesday with Darcel, Donna and me.
During the activities and discussion, the kids demonstrated their self awareness and their ability to feel empathy for others, while still grappling with their own difficulties in dealing with rumors and gossip and having friends with different attitudes and values than their own. We had some lively problem solving about whether it's better to confront someone who's gossiping or simply walk away and not participate. We decided there are many ways to respond and sometimes it depends on the person and the situation....learning to be flexible and assess the circumstance at hand. Donna told a story about a man who had lived in his home town for a long time when a new man moved in, beginning a torrent of taunts and criticism toward the first man at every opportunity. Every time he was insulted, the first man would simply say, "no thanks." I could see the kids light up with the recognition that there are some "gifts" we just don't have to accept; if we can say "no thanks" to things we don't want or like, we can say "no thanks" to insults and rumors about ourselves and others.
Someone brought up the movie "Pay it Forward," which led to a discussion about making a difference, which led to the Gandhi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." The students moved excitedly from individual change to systemic change, "What if we could create a gossip free/rumor free school?" "What would that look like?" "What can we do to make it a reality?" It was so much fun to see them thinking about the big picture and not just about the pettiness of individual insults. "What if we create an environment where the younger kids coming up will know what our values are?"
We finished up our collages, which visually represented who we are and what we value. We then moved into practicing and role playing actual situations and the helping skills the students could use with their peers. What a great group of kids! I am very proud of them and know that they are making a difference in our school and our community.