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Central New York Students Gain Perspective through Community Wide Dialogue Program

This is a photo of a group of students standing in a school hallway, smiling at the camera.“I like that we get to vibe with them,” Lincoln 7th grader Khazairi Sampson said of students who attend Onondaga Hill Middle School. “We talk about things like racism, stereotypes, and redlining. We’ve learned to get to know people based on who they are instead of making judgements.”
For more than two decades, SCSD high school students have had the opportunity to engage with their counterparts in suburban schools thanks to the InterFaith Works Community Wide Dialogue (CWD) exchange program.
Through CWD, about 15 students from a SCSD school are partnered with about 15 students from a suburban school. They meet several times throughout the school year – alternating between the City school and the suburbs. At each meeting, they participate in relationship building activities and delve into conversations about race, equity, and belonging. In recent years, the program has expanded to include SCSD 7th and 8th grade middle school students – and this year, four SCSD middle schools now participate, the most ever! Also new this year, Henninger students piloted the first-ever three school exchange, partnering with both Liverpool and the Big Picture School in Lafayette.
For both the middle and high school students, discussion topics range from identity – who are you, and what are you experiences like – to stereotypes, privilege, barriers to success, and more. Ultimately, the CWD facilitators lead students to identify common concerns within our shared community. What would they fix if they could? What are the issues that concern them? Together, the students work to come up with an action plan: how can we become allies and work together to help each other?
“They’re fun people,” Lincoln 8th grader Jason McAuley said of the students from Onondaga Hill. “We all have different personalities, but everyone brings something to the table that we didn’t have before. We connected over how we each feel in our communities and how we’re treated differently. Community Wide Dialogue helps us because it has allowed us to think about how other people might feel based on how they look, where they are from, and what they represent.”
“It’s nice to meet new people and have an experience with kids who are from other schools,” ELMS 8th grader Naomi Marquez, who participated in the Community Wide Dialogue exchange with students from Wellwood, said. “We learned about ways that each of our schools are better. For example, their school is bigger, but they also have more kids there. At ELMS, we have our CREWs and we have a lot of togetherness – we know each other here and it’s a nice community. But we learned we have shared interests and things in common. Programs like this really give you a different perspective on other people and what their lives are like.”
Lincoln 7th and 8th grade CTE teacher Tavon Goddard, who is also a Community Wide Dialogue facilitator, said watching students exchange ideas and connect gives him hope for the future.
“This is an amazing opportunity for my students – and myself,” he said. “Community Wide Dialogue allows groups of students, with a diversity of perspectives, to listen, share, and discover how they are willing to change the communities they live in and that surround them. Our hope was for our students to discover shared values and learn to express their interests while connecting with students and teachers of varying backgrounds. Our students really grew in their understanding and learned to work with the Onondaga Hill students toward common goals. They built positive relationships that will serve our students well in the future and that we hope will bring about positive change!”
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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