When I was in high school we had one Friday of the year that was called Human Relations Day. It was a day that involved students sitting in different rooms in a nearby building discussing real subjects that plagued our school, such as racism, prejudice behavior, cliques etc. The day was a positive one. It made us think for a while about the differences between us but more importantly all the similarities between us. Turns out, teenagers like to make fun of one another for the same things that are occurring within themselves.
After being pointed in the direction of the MTV show “If You Really Knew Me”, I began to see that getting students in the same room to humanize themselves could be a great deterrent to violence and conflict. I organized a day outside with all of my classes grades 6-8 and we jumped right in. I set up the day by showing an episode of “If You Really Knew Me” in class the day before. This would hopefully allow the students to see that expressing themselves in a positive way was ok in front of their classmates. Not to mention, the point is to have students understand that there are lots of things that happen in a child’s life that cause stress, anger and distractions to learning in school.
After describing the day, and disclosing one personal story of my own to get the ball rolling, the students broke up into groups of 6 or 7, selected by me, and began to share what was on their minds. If students were doing fine in and out of school, then they provided support to those that were having a hard time. The education that was taking place was absolutely priceless. Students could very quickly see that life was not easy for many of their classmates. Students shared stories of family deaths, neglect, shame, bullying, school struggles, divorce, separation, moving to a new town, a parent in jail and so on. Most teachers shy away from allowing this type of sharing to take place between students. They fear it. The type of sharing teachers are comfortable with among students is typically artificial, short-lived, embarrassing, and of little thought. I was nervous at the start, but quickly became one of them when they began to share their thoughts and feelings. This group activity lasted roughly 20 minutes.
The next task was for students to stand on one side of a line as a whole. When asked general questions, of divorce, family loss, bullying, illness, etc, they would cross the line if the question pertained to them personally. Everyone crossed the line at some point. The question that caused every student in most classes to cross was when I asked if they had ever been picked on, ridiculed, or put down by a classmate. It was easy to see that that question meant a lot to the students.
The final task was for the students to fill out a thank you card addressed to someone they cared about. Whether a family member that supports them, a friend that stands up for them or someone who has made a positive difference in their life.
I called the day “Melting Pot”. We may have plenty of differences between us, but when you put us all together, the similarities can’t be ignored. Give this a try if you want. Who knows, you may be the recipient of a few thank you cards.
Sean M. Brooks is a Health Education teacher at Punta Gorda Middle School in Punta Gorda, Florida. He advises a Conflict/Violence Prevention Focus Group of 70 plus students for PGMS. Sean is also an Associate with Partners In Learning.