Youth-Led Intentional Social Interaction (February 2016)
By Mary Sue Hansen, Director of the Suburban Ramsey Family Collaborative
There was much anticipation as I watched the young people and their adult advisors prepare for the first ever, Youth-Led Intentional Social Interaction ("ISI" pronounced "Izzy") in Suburban Ramsey County. For two months or more, students from White Bear Lake High School met with their adult guides, Malia Yang Xiong and Graciela Hammeken, to prepare for this community conversation across race, age, income, gender and culture.
These young people have been prepared through their work with EMID (specifically Journey, Culture Club and Youth Executive Board) so they were a prime group to take on this unprecedented challenge. There were a lot of components to think about: the theme, the location, the food, the invitation, the number of volunteers needed, roles of each volunteer, logistics, etc.
The group quickly got to work and determined that they wanted conversations focused on unifying the community to collectively close the achievement gap. "We are ALL bears" was the theme and there was a great social media corner where folks could tweet and take pictures together.
I came early to support the young people, but quickly realized I didn't need to do a thing. They had it all under control from room/food and child care set up, to training volunteer greeters and organizing the paperwork.
As the night unfolded, I was fortunate enough to have wonderful and enlightening conversations with White Bear Lake parents, students and community members who are dedicated to their children's school and life success as well as all young people in their community. Conversations included suggestions on how to make all families and children feel respected and welcomed, how important after school activities and homework help are to parents, and how important a shared meal was to facilitating real conversation.
When the night of deep and important conversations wrapped up, I listened to the large circle of friends unify around the beauty of our diverse community, show respect and compassion for their neighbors and the stories they heard, and express gratitude to the young people and the school district for making the evening possible. There was a great sense of pride in being a
community who cares enough to come together with the school to tackle these hard issues together.
Because of authentic gatherings like these, we are each making the first step to ensuring that all students have access to the right opportunities to help them succeed in school. Yes, we are all Bears and we all have a stake, role and responsibility in supporting the success of all students at the White Bear Lake Schools. See you at the next ISI!!!