Storytelling is an important aspect of any Community Heart & Soul® project. When residents share stories they can feel renewed pride of place and more valued in the community. Stories can also give rise to new perspectives from new voices on issues, and that can become an impetus for action.
That’s what happened in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul collected stories from youth, several emerged that highlighted racism and bullying in the local middle and high schools. Racial slurs, anti-Semitism, Confederate flags, and inaction on the part of the school administration were among the concerns.
A group of students decided to take action.
School board members were invited to talk to students at a community conversation organized by the Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul team. But the students didn’t feel that meeting was effective. So the teens regrouped, held their own meeting to sort out the issues and drafted a letter to the school board.
High school student, Tatyum Robinson-Covert, who is part of the Heart & Soul leadership team, read the letter at a school board meeting. In the letter, the students not only outlined the problem, they proposed steps for change.
“We think that the best action to take next is to allow all students to be involved in a racial/cultural sensitivity assembly. Teachers often have training on school issues, and we feel it would greatly benefit the student body to learn from a meeting as well. This assembly will teach both students and teachers about issues we face,” she read.
Several school board members noted it was the first time a student had come to a meeting to express concerns about racial bullying, said Lindsay Varner, project coordinator for the Community Heart & Soul project, who helped collect teen stories.
“After the meeting several members spoke with Tatyum privately about working with her and other students to make a change,” Varner said.
Read the local newspaper coverage of the school board meeting: http://cumberlink.com/news/local/communities/carlisle/carlisle-students-ask-school-board-to-address-racial-cultural-issues/article_89e41f88-aecd-5a51-92a9-54a905c0fad5.html