In Evan Pritchard's comments he states, "It was a once in a lifetime experience. I was amazed to meet the people who represent us. They were just regular people. This made me feel that I could possibly achieve this goal of someday representing others also. It brought into the picture of how change could be made in this country by starting with the state level and proceeding to the federal level."
Mary Pritchard, Chair
Middle School Study Circles: For the middle school program, each school sends 12 students representing the diversity in their school. At least one faculty member accompanies each school group. The participants are divided into small groups (10 + 15) for discussion and activities related to topics including ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation and the negative effect of bullying as it relates to these topics. An effort is made to have equal representation of gender and grade level and each school in every group. The middle school study circle discussion groups are facilitated by adults who have received special training from SCED emphasizing good listening habits and respect for everyone's opinion.
High School Study Circles: The high school program invites up to 20 students from each of the seven high schools with a goal of equal representation of gender and grade level, and with as much racial diversity as possible. Each day the students view special audio-visual programs on topics of diversity and bullying and then meet in small discussion groups. Likewise, a special discussion guide was developed for the high school program. The high school groups are facilitated by high school students who have experienced the study circle program and have received at least 8 hours of special training provided by SCED.
On the second day of each study circle program, time is set aside for each participating school district to develop an "Action Plan" to take back to their school to encourage a better understanding of the diversity within their community.
SCED's hope is that through the discussions and follow-up actions, students will develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for the diversity in their communities and in the surrounding communities, which may be socially and economically different from their own. For some students attending, this will be the first face to face interaction they will have with a person of another race, religion or of a different sexual orientation. By coming together and entering into these discussions, students learn more about each other and more about bullying, a first step in implementing institutional change.
In addition to the immediate advantages offered by the program, middle school students will be able to participate in high school study circles and later as facilitators for succeeding high school study circles. These peer-led study circles are especially successful in providing an experience for development of leadership skills, not only as peer facilitators but also through designing, organizing and carrying out an action plan project in their home schools. Over the past 10 years, most schools have developed study circle "clubs" which carry over from year to year.
It is our observation that this experience is not just a one-time event; but that through the organization of action plans, students remain involved in future years with on-going programs, such as "Mix it Up" at lunch and other activities in their schools to encourage understanding of and appreciation for diversity in their school and community. Since the inception of the youth study circle programs, over 1,800 high school students and 1,050 middle school students have participated.
The adults accompanying the students at both levels join in their own study circle to hear about experiences of previous study circles and follow-up activities that have been successful in the past. For many of these educators, this is the first opportunity they have to discuss institutional racism and intolerance with their peers and learn about ways to deal with it in their personal experience.