Students Gain Perspective through Interfaith Works Dialogue Exchange Program

     Published on 6/15/16   Tagged under:    District News    Corcoran High School    Danforth Magnet School    Franklin Elementary School    Henninger High School    HW Smith K-8 School    ITC    LeMoyne Elementary School    Nottingham High School    PSLA @ Fowler   

Students at SCSD high schools spend five days each school year sharing ideas and engaging in discussions with students from suburban schools, thanks to the Interfaith Works of CNY Dialogue Exchange program.
Each school selects 5 student facilitators and 15 students to take part in the Dialogue Exchange. High school students meet for five sessions with groups of students from Baldwinsville, Central Square, F-M, Skaneateles and Westhill—switching between their home school and the suburban school for each meeting.
At the exchanges, students participate in discussions and activities intended to help the students connect with each other and gain new understanding as they discuss racism and other topics that can be difficult to confront.
“Talking about racism and race relations is hard. People bring many emotions to the discussion- anger, guilt, grief, rage and fear, just to name a few,” Interfaith Works Program Coordinator Karen Calenzo explained. “The dialogue circles surface some of these sentiments and we welcome the opportunity to openly and honestly listen to each other’s experience and feelings. I am very hopeful that their dialogues are just the beginning of what it takes to end racism and bring peace for the future.”
In the initial meetings, students are paired up and shadow each other for a school day.
“We’re from different places and different socioeconomic circumstances,” Fowler senior Bonke Rugira explained. “But we’ve learned that we can come together as adults and talk about the challenges facing the world and what we can do about them.”
As the sessions develop, students delve into deep discussions about race, stereotypes and local and world news. Besides the real-world issues students discussed, many also said that they saw their personal views of each other change throughout the program.
“It has been eye opening hearing the stories about the things happening at Baldwinsville and their students’ reactions to hearing about the things that happen here at Corcoran,” Corcoran senior Taniya Williams said. “We all assume things about each other, but they broke all the stereotypes I had about them. They’re really great people!”
Baldwinsville senior Kathryn Terasaka said that in her two years participating in the Dialogue Exchange, she has seen a change in herself. “It sank in for me that I was stereotyping a lot,” she said of the group’s discussions. “There are so many issues that we usually avoid talking about, but we have seen that it just causes more problems by not talking about them! This experience has helped us reflect and it really opened my eyes.”
By interacting with the same students at each dialogue exchange, and by meeting several times over the course of a few months, the Dialogue Exchange has also led students to become more comfortable with each other, with many creating friendships that extend even beyond the academic setting.
“We cover topics that we don’t cover in school, so it broadens our horizons beyond our school walls,” F-M’s Morgan Moliski explained. “Now, it’s become more about friends talking together than an academic thing.”
Henninger junior TJ Kamanda shared the same sentiments. “At first, you don’t know them and you don’t know if you should open up,” he said. “But when they share their opinion, it kind of touches your heart and you want to share something, too. I feel like this experience has opened my mind to help me become a person of understanding.”
“It’s been an eye opening experience,” Westhill sophomore Jahzeel Hill said. “It’s fun to see everyone come together, communicate and abandon past judgment. I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover. Because of this experience, I’m going to be more open and get to know the real person and their experiences!”
Thanks to the success of the high school Dialogue Exchange, Interfaith Works has started also started a middle school program, as well as a program for elementary students. While Danforth eighth graders pair up with Wellwood students, third graders from LeMoyne, H.W. Smith and Franklin partner with their peers in each of the three F-M elementary schools.
At the middle school level, discussions still centered around racism and breaking stereotypes. “We’re having deeper conversations that are showing us how stereotypes affect people,” F-M eighth grader Natalie Cassalia explained. “We’re trying to look past them and learn to see the real person.”
For elementary school students, the focus is more about the experience of making friends they may otherwise not meet.
“During the exchange, students are able to learn about racism, see new environments and witness different perspectives on topics that are tough to talk about—all while just being kids!” LeMoyne Special Education teacher Colleen Wills explained. “The bonds and friendships they form after spending just a few hours together is so sweet. It speaks to how these kids are able to understand how valuable everyone is—no matter their race, religion or way of life.”
Thank you to the staff at Interfaith Works for creating such a wonderful experience for students!