March 8, 2024

WHS students welcome peers from Poland Regional High to practice civil discourse

By Lorraine Glowczak

For the second consecutive year, a student group from Windham High School volunteered to participate in the Can We? Project and hosted their peers from Poland Regional High School in mid-February to practice skills needed for civilized conversations.

WHS freshman James Arthurs, left, and Poland
Regional High senior Audrey Fryda engage in a
courteous conversation regarding a current
legislative issue. SUBMITTED PHOTO  
The Can We? Project is an initiative intended for high school students to rejuvenate democracy by learning the abilities necessary to engage in respectful civil dialogue. This is Poland High’s first year participating in the Can We? Project. At last month’s gathering, students from both schools had the opportunity to discuss diverse perspectives and complex issues, doing so by showing a level of maturity and respect needed in difficult discussions.

“My experience with Can We? reinforced my admiration for this generation of students,” a PRHS social studies teacher, and Can We? Project liaison Elaine Fryda said. “They are mature, earnest, and articulate. I was impressed by how seriously they discussed important current events.”

Jen Dumont, a WHS JMG specialist/teacher, and Can We? Project liaison agreed, saying that any time a space is provided for students to meet and communicate with peers, in a safe and solution-oriented way, it opens students' perspectives and encourages empathy.

“Having the opportunity to host Poland Regional High School Can We? Project students gave our Can We? participants a chance to exhibit leadership skills and showcase some of the conversation tools they have developed during our past Can We? Project retreats,” Dumont said. “It is always edifying to realize that there are other students with similar stories and concerns from around our state.”

A few students from both schools shared their experiences from participating in the project.

Audrey Fryda, a PRHS senior, admitted that in an age of internet, it is easy to be swept into a biased and stereotypical way of thinking.

“I think it is easy to be sucked into an echo chamber of sorts, where you find things on the internet that align with what you believe to be true,” she said. “By engaging in conversations, we are having today with peers who think differently, we break those stereotypes and expand our empathy for others. By being able to do this, we are taught how to deal with important and controversial issues in an intelligent and respectful manner.”

WHS freshman James Arthurs said that if you take the moment to listen to one another, even if you don’t agree on a topic, you can come to an understanding or simply agree to disagree and remain civil.

“I enjoy participating in these conversations because it helps me learn different sides of a story - so I can understand where others are coming from,” Arthurs said. “It also helps me better understand my own perspective and has sometimes changed my viewpoint a bit. I also have understood my perspective more thoroughly where I am better able to support and advocate for it.”
PRHS senior Jonathan Crump said this was the first opportunity he had to talk about laws being passed and enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say. His involvement with the Can We? Project provided a deeper understanding of real conversations.

“Most of my experiences with Can We? were positive, but I want to point out that the project isn’t a ‘utopia of open mindedness’ if you will,” Crump said. “I still felt that I was being judged by people around me, just to a lesser extent. In all, it was fun to engage in dialogue with my peers and Can We? is definitely a step taken to bridge the gap between our country's political divide.”

The Can We? Project was founded in 2018 by Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement at Waynflete School. Originally a weekend retreat serving 35 students, the project now works throughout the school year with nearly 300 students in 14 public partner schools in Maine. Can We? is a collaborative effort between Waynflete, Maine Policy Institute, a non-profit that works to expand individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine, and Narrative 4, a national storytelling exchange program that teaches the skills of compassion through active listening with others.

Dumont explained that as adults, we have a certain responsibility to students to provide the space for active listening, and it is the reason why she is a teacher and a Can We? Project liaison.

“It’s important we provide the structure and safety to share students’ personal stories and have solution-oriented conversations that build bridges between people of various backgrounds and opinions,” she said. “I feel very honored to have been able to participate. I look forward to seeing the Can We? Project evolve and take on an incarnation here that can have further impact on our student population and staff.”

Elaine Fryda agrees with Dumont.

“Can We? provides students a unique opportunity to practice empathy, communication, and reflection,” she said. “Participation in the project fosters curiosity, courage, and caring. It goes without saying that we all could use more of these traits in our lives.” <

No comments:

Post a Comment