A major outcome of the community circles has been the successful effort of
conducting study circles for Schenectady County high school and middle school
students. Organizers and school Superintendents in the seven Schenectady County
school districts determined that it was important for "Racism & Diversity"
study circles to occur across district lines among students from different schools and backgrounds.
Most recently, the topic of bullying has been introduced as a study circle topic as it relates to
issues of racial and religious diversity and sexual orientation.
High School Study Circles: Every December (since 2000) high school students from
the public schools in Schenectady County converge on the Union College campus
for two days of study circles. More than 675 students from seven districts have
participated in study circles to date. Since December 2004, students from Notre
Dame Bishop Gibbons, Schenectady Christian School and home-schooled students are
invited to participate, as well. In 2008 and 2009, high school students from the
North Colonie School Districts joined their Schenectady County neighbors for
the high school study circle program. Student study circles are led by student
facilitators who have been participants in at least one previous study circle
program and have had eight hours of facilitator training. The study circle
discussions conclude with an "Action Forum" at the end of the second day when
students from each school meet together to develop an action plan to carry
out in their individual schools to improve race relations and to better
Middle School Study Circles: At the strong urging of high school study circle
participants, the program was expanded to the middle school level in 2002. Nearly 550
middle school students from eleven middle schools representing the different public
school districts in Schenectady County have participated in study circles using
a modified curriculum developed by a committee of SCED members and middle school
staff from participating schools. These study circles are led by adult
facilitators (SCED volunteers) who also undergo special facilitator training.
And, as in the high school program, at the conclusion of the discussion segment of the program, the
participants from each school meet together to draw up a proposed action plan
to take back to their schools.
Action Outcomes for 2011-12 Middle School Study Circles:
- Exchanges between Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna School District and the Martin Luther King Magnet School in the Schenectady City School District were planned with the hope of learning more about each other and dispelling some of the perceptions each school had about the other. Three lunch exchanges were held and a day was held experiencing team building at Camp Chingachgook. Over the year the students exchanged emails and phone numbers and students from both schools mingled easily at Camp Chingachgook
- Students from O'Rourke Middle School in the Burnt Hills Ballston Lake School District and Mont Pleasant Middle School in the Schenectady School District met together 3 times to get to know each other and better understand the differences and similarities between their two schools. In follow up discussions the students had many great observations about how diversity can be a positive attribute to a community and school. O'Rourke middle schoolers prepared a bulletin board and power point presentation about bullying to share school wide. Mont Pleasant Middle School study circles members met throughout the school concerning bullying and ways to address it in their building.
- Exchanges between Oneida Middle School in the Schenectady City School District and Draper Middle School in the Mohonasen School District were held and they had a joint visit at the Adirondack Extreme Ropes Course for an experience in team building.
- Iroquois Middle School Students in Niskayuna held a "Mix-it-Up" lunch with sixth grade students in their school; developed PSAs and posters about bullying for their school and planned a program for 5th grade students in one of the District's elementary schools talking about conflict resolution and friendship using small group work, large group discussions, skits and video clips. They plan to continue the program for 5th grade students in the 2012-13 school year.
- Duanesburg Middle School students attended Character Education class to discuss bullying, purchased bullying/prosocial posters and other materials for bulling education in their school and presented antibullying PSA's on their school's morning show.
- Students at the Blodgett Success Academy for Middle School Students (Schenectady City School District) attended the Secret Life of Bee's at Proctors and participated in discussion groups after the performance. Two students have been trained in peer mediation and assist in student conflict mediations. Students were engaged in activities that strengthen the positive qualities they possess including their capacity to understand the perspectives of others and to be empathetic, helpful and kind. Students were awarded "caught being good" tickets which were entered in a raffle and a winner was drawn each month and awarded a prize (movie pass or gift certificate).
- Students at the Central Park International Magnet School in the Schenectady City School District used posters, educational videos and held informal meetings to recognize negative, bullying behavior and to promote responding intentionally and not retaliating by not being a "bystander." Students were encouraged to report negative behaviors to supportive adults. Meetings focusing on combating bullying were held weekly at lunch hour and others from the student body were invited to join these meetings. A survey was conducted of the entire student body to collect opinions, ideas and experiences in relation to bullying and the surveys were reviewed to determine where the average students fall in relation to the bullying questions. In addition, students visited the Schenectady County Nursing Home and planted flowers for the residents as a community service activity.
Action Outcomes foe 2011-12 High School Study Circles:
- Duanesburg High School purchased two teen-age novels, "Girls" and "Bystander" which deal with bullying and 30 "Time Action" magazines, with articles dealing with racism, discrimination and bullying. The books and magazines were read and discussed by the students in small group "literature circles."
- Schenectady High School's Study Circle Club organized and hosted a Diversity-themed 3-on- 3 Basketball Tournament. Teams of three ethnically/culturally diverse students were organized to compete in a double elimination format, emphasizing how groups of diverse individuals can work together to reach a common goal with respect and understanding for each other. The program generated a commendation from a community member thanking the club for holding the tournament. Students who participated displayed positive, respective attitudes and behaviors. The hope is to continue the tournament in the future.
- Burnt Hills Ballston Lake High School and Mohonasen High School students held two "exchanges"-one at each school. Burnt Hills students shadowed Mohonasen students for a half day of classes then following lunch together the two groups discussed stereotypes and the aspects that were the same and/or different about each school. The visit was repeated at Burnt Hills two weeks later.
- Mohonasen students also held several other activities in their school-H.U.G.S. (Harmony & Unity through Giving and Sharing) Day when study circle participants handed out candy HUGS to student/faculty as an act of kindness and to promote positive connections among the school community. The white & milk chocolate candy symbolized the "blending of differences" at MHS. "Glee Day" was an after school event during which the students viewed an episode of the popular TV show "Glee" in which one of the show's students reveals to his father that he is gay. School wide "Day of Silence" followed by "Break the Silence" to bring attention to and protest the harassment and bullying of LGBTQ students. Bracelets with the message "Don't be Invisible, Be Invincible" were purchased and sold to participants (approximately 270 students and faculty) and proceeds were donated to the Trevor Project.
SCED Youth Programs Presented at National Conference: In October 2005, SCED was
invited to attend the National Conference of the Study Circle Resource Center
held in Northbrook, Illinois. Brian Wright, SCED Steering Committee member,
Lesley Adewunmi, Niskayuna High School student and participant and facilitator
in the SCED High School Study Circle program and Kay Ackerman, SCED
Administrator were community presenters in the workshop, Students Speak Up and
Take Action to Break Down Barriers. They shared organizational experiences and
stories about the SCED youth programs. Many communities across the country have
youth programs but few have programs that bring students together from all the
county high (or middle) schools for study circles.