After being involved with EYEJ for a year and attending most of the discussions during the 2016-2017 school year I assumed that this years discussions would be more of the […]
After being involved with EYEJ for a year and attending most of the discussions during the 2016-2017 school year I assumed that this years discussions would be more of the same. I was wrong. While the students that take part in the discussions include many of the same students as last year, the approach of discussions has changed somewhat. Like most individuals their age, the students EYEJ serves are surrounded by people telling them what to do. From teachers telling them do the homework to parents telling them to clean their rooms, the student’s voices are often overshadowed by the adults in their life.
The discussions that EYEJ has are not meant not be speakers telling the students what to do in regards to that month’s topic. EYEJ wants to empower the voices of the students we serve and have those voices drive the conversation. However to a student who is used to adults instructing them on what to do, this is not always clear. Many of the students assume that the speakers are being paid with simple interest in making money. Others are used to speakers that lecture to them the way teachers or parents due.
This mistrust of engaging in dialogue with adults has an effect on the discussions. It means that speakers must begin by breaking the ice with the students. Last year it was very important that speakers emphasize that they were volunteers and were here to engage in an honest conversation with the students. Even then students were hesitant to be a part of the conversation until they could observe that the kind of discussion EYEJ promotes is different than the ones they have in their everyday life.
This year has been different however. Perhaps it because of how long EYEJ has been working in the schools we serve or increased training or because we have increased our efforts to have committed speakers who return each month but the hesitation that was common at the beginning of discussions last year is reduced or sometimes gone all together. The students are excited to see the speaker volunteers and hear what they have to say. Speakers are able begin talking about the topic after only a brief introduction rather than having to explain why the students should be involved and participate. This desire to be a part of the discussion also shows in the way that students police disruptions in the classroom. It is not uncommon for a student to to tell his classmates to stop talking if individual conversations get to loud.
And this excitement does not stop when the discussion ends. Students will come up the the speaker after and ask them questions or tell them ways that they plan to use what they talked about today in their lives. Many students want to know if the speakers will come back next or want to connect with as a mentor or advisor.
It is one thing to me to try and tell you about what has changed from last year to this year but it is another thing to see it for yourself. If you have not volunteered, now is the perfect time. The students are excited learn and interact with the speakers. If you volunteered with us previously I encourage you to do it. The kinds of discussions we are able to have this year have far surpassed the ones from last school year including new topics such as civil rights, entrepreneurship and technology. If you can give your time a discussion you will find you have a willing a group of student ready to be a part of it.
Sign up to be a Volunteer Facilitator, Speaker or Coordinator at EYEJ’s Discussion Series. For more information go here.
EYEJ Discussion Series Supervisor