During my second month volunteering for Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice (EYEJ) I was assigned to be the Discussion Series Coordinator for the 8th-grade boys’ room at Anton Grdina. The classroom […]
During my second month volunteering for Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice (EYEJ) I was assigned to be the Discussion Series Coordinator for the 8th-grade boys’ room at Anton Grdina. The classroom was small, which allowed the speakers to give a lot of direct attention to the students, and that month’s topic was “Exploring Power & Privilege” – a subject that is particularly interesting to a group of 8th graders who find themselves caught between childhood, adolescence and adulthood. All of the students were actively involved in the discussion – except for one student – who I will call David.
From the time we walked into the classroom, David had his head resting on his desk. Like all EYEJ discussions, we began with a mindfulness activity and the speaker asked each of the students what they felt during the exercise. When it was David’s turn to respond, he replied that he was “bored.” Then as the speakers introduced themselves to the group, he went back to resting his head on his desk.
But as the discussion continued, students were asked to consider the difference between power and privilege. They were also asked to think about where they had power or privilege in their own lives. The passion our speakers had for the topic was beginning to pull even the most reluctant students into the conversation. Eventually, David lifted his head and sat up in his chair.
Then one of the speakers brought out a chess board and asked the group what they felt was the most powerful piece. Some said the queen, because it can move the most spaces. Others said the king, because the game ends when it is captured. Soon each student was making a case for a different piece, including the pawn. While David never joined in the discussion with his classmates, you could tell by the way he had moved in his chair that he was really thinking about the question and the larger topics of power and privilege. The speaker had found a creative way to get David to think about the topic, despite his silence and initial reluctance.
As a student, I often begrudged having to learn things just because, “It’s going to be on the test.” I imagine these students feel the same way. They are presented with books and tests full of information that seems to have no use in their lives. Students like David remind us how unique the topics covered in the EYEJ Discussion Series are. I am amazed at the number of times that students express how they only get to discuss topics like power or money during the Discussion Series. Yet despite not being exposed to them anywhere else, the topics are so easily relatable that they cannot help but become involved.
One of the greatest parts of volunteering with EYEJ is that each person brings his/her unique perspective and experiences into the discussion with them. Sometimes the message a student needs to hear the most has nothing to do with the lesson plan. In the case of David, the chess board activity was not part of the normal curriculum. If that speaker had not brought that activity with them, David may never have been drawn into the discussion.
If you haven’t yet, I encourage everyone to experience the Discussion Series for themselves. We are actively seeking volunteers for the 2017-2018 school year. If you have participated in the EYEJ Discussion series before, we hope you’ll come back and invite a friend to join you. No two classrooms are alike and each session is different from the last. Our impact multiplies with each caring person who shares a piece of themselves with the students we serve. Learn more here.
Peter Daly, EYEJ Coordinator Supervisor