Middle School Students Get Tough On Bullying

22 Apr

Earlier this month, Assistant Director, Etana Jacobi, was invited to facilitate two forums on bullying with sixth grade scholars at Up Academy Lawrence in Lawrence, Massachusetts.   Utilizing the David Matthews Center for Public Life‘s issue guide, Bullying: What is it? How do we prevent it?sixty students participated in fruitful deliberations on how this issue affects their lives, and what they can do to change it.  As this is Up Academy Lawrence’s founding year, participants had the unique opportunity to discuss an issue with the support of an open administration eager to enact student-generated policies school-wide.

Both forums produced a similar set of ideas to eradicate the bullying phenomenon, centering on the necessity of a school culture where reporting and positive intervention is considered the norm. As the merit system was considered to be an effective strategy currently in place to reward exceptional behavior becoming of an Up Academy Lawrence scholar, participants felt that merits should be awarded to students for reporting bullying to help eliminate the negative “snitch” mentality.  Students recognized that a trade-off for this option was the potential for over/false reporting, but they felt strongly that the benefits outweighed the possible costs in this situation.

There was also a clear need for students to feel equipped with the skills to become positive interveners when they witness, or are victims of, bullying. Participants supported the idea of having self-confidence training for all incoming students to properly prepare them for handling difficult bullying situations.  In addition to a self-confidence training, many participants expressed an interest in establishing a peer mediation program.  Students could opt out of detention if they agreed to participate in a mediation facilitated by trained peers, without the punitive pressures of faculty or administration involvement.  They felt that the implementation of such a program would foster a group of student allies who would be able to help bullies and victims work through the root cause of the issues they are facing.

Amelia Marden, Founding History Teacher at Up Academy Lawrence and 2012 Teach for America Corp Member, took notes on the deliberation, and is currently working with students on policy recommendations that can be made to their Principle and Dean of Students.


From Boston— Sustained Dialogue Leadership 2013 Spring Conference at Harvard University!

30 Mar

The following post has been taken from Democracy Fellow  Jeanine Russaw’s blog.

The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network is an organization that “develops everyday leaders who engage differences as strengths to improve campuses workplaces, and communities.” On Friday March 1st through Sunday March 3rd, five CCE (Center for Civic Engagement) working students (including myself) represented Hofstra Unviersity at this event.

The goal of this event was to learn as much as possible about Sustained  Dialogue with the purpose of bringing it back to our own campus and initiate the changes we would like to see.

What actually happened? Just that, and more. The five of us walked away from a weekend of networking with 20 other universities from around the nation (and one from Mexico, but more on that later), and enhanced view of how/why we will implement it at Hofstra.

Now for the most poignant question. What exactly is sustained dialogue? There is a formal definition that can be accessed and assessed by going to the SDCN website (link provided above), however after experiencing various samples of what this network has to offer, I will define it on my own terms.

Sustained Dialogue is about forging and transforming relationships between people of different or seemingly different identities, beliefs, or status for the purpose of garnering understanding or taking action.

Day One.


This is a photo from the very first sustained dialogue in which I participated! The topic of discussion was “The issues of most importance on college campuses nationwide.” The issues focused most from this group were socio-economic status as well as the race/ethnicity barriers that fuel the aforementioned problem. In the end, we discussed ways of facilitating conversations on these issues when returning to our respective campuses. Represented in this picture are Ohio State, Case Western University, University of Alabama, Tecnologico de Monterey— and of course, Hofstra University!


@etanajacobi:”I can’t be an effective leader and motivate others to make a change if I don’t know what motivates me.” #LeadershipConference

— jeanine russaw (@jMarieRussaw) March 2, 2013


These next photos from day one are indicative of the first workshop of the conference: “Leadership Through Storytelling: People, Power, and Change.” In this, we learned the importance of the personal narrative to not only affirm one’s own sense of purpose in the field of Sustained Dialogue, but to the people one is trying to reach get a sense of who they are so they too can open up.


Laure “Voop” de Vulpillieres is the one who facilitated this workshop. She shared her own narrative of why she became involved with Sustained Dialogue, and later we all did the same.

Day two.


The Hofstra Representatives gathered for a group photo before what was sure to be a long day…and it was. A standout of this day were the panel of females representing organizations such as Teach for America, Bloomberg L.P., and the Bridgepan Group (discussing the value of inclusive leadership).


Also a standout, a speaker of the evening Chris Stedman, spoke about the power had to transform his life in terms if his perspectives of people and they way they viewed him. He views Sustained Dialogue not as a way to change people’s thoughts and actions, but as a way to openly communicate with others for the purposes of understanding, education, and tolerance.


With writer/activist Chris Stedman.


An exploratory shot of Boston.

Day three. 

On the third day the conference wrapped up and walked through the next steps for our return to our respective institutions. After a game of “connect” in which we each spoke about what resonated with us that weekend, we got to break out into our our campus groups to discuss our next steps of action and how/why we will take what we learned with us. For Hofstra, we have agreed upon a long term goal of closing the schism between the Hofstra campus and its surrounding community, while addressing concerns of socio-economic gaps and racial divides as possible causes. However, we have also come to the understanding that this will only be possible if we receive “buy in” from our own school, so we will first make a change at Hofstra by hearing the opinion of students and faculty.


During this time, we got to network with Harvard senior, Ekene Agu. The night before she was announced the winner of the Sustained Dialogue Essay Competition— her work to be featured in the Huffington Post very soon! After sharing our plans for our own campus, she shared with us her plans to use her economics degree and understanding of sustained dialogue when returning to North Africa (where she originally from) with the hopes of improving its international standing.


So…what did resonate with me?  Well, everything really. An important part for me was the identifying of my own goals; my own mission statement through the telling of a personal narrative. Why do you really want to be involved with sustained dialogue? Once a person knows that, everything else comes naturally. Even more pivotal was hearing the thoughts and future actions of those I met at this conference. These two items combined placed this trip into perspective for me, and this is something we can all hopefully take from this experience as we return to our perspective schools— the journey is far from complete, but I can’t wait for what’s next.


In closing…

This conference has been very informative and provided me with great clarity on the types of actions I would like to take and the differences I would like to see. Thank you to Mike and CCE, Etana, Blaine, Sean, and Mike for allowing me to take this journey with you.

If you are still unsure about Sustained Dialogue, feel free to visit their website: http://www.sdcampusnetwork.org/

WE HIT 100!

13 Feb

Last Thursday we hit what seemed to be a goal only attainable in our wildest dreams: ONE HUNDRED deliberative forums throughout Long Island on issues that affect each and every one of us!  We were incredibly pleased to share this milestone with the students, faculty, and administration at Long Beach High School.  Having faced utter devastation as a result of Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach has done an excellent job rallying together in rebuilding efforts to move forward as a community.  Garnering similar spirit, we led six forums on the National Debt and Immigration Reform, giving students the opportunity to approach these issues in a deliberative manner so that we can move forward as a nation.  Both the Principal, Dr. Gaurav Passi , and the Superintendent, Dr. David Weiss, are Hofstra alumni and have a long involvement with the deliberative NIF process.  In October, the Long Beach Public Library hosted eight forums on four consecutive Fridays, allowing for community members to weigh in on the very same issues students considered last week.  Unfortunately, Sandy hit just days after our last forum at the library and it has yet to reopen.

Long Beach

Reflection from A Nation In Debt:

“I had no idea about anything with the debt, it was just something Dr. Smith gave us last week.  It isn’t something we talk about at home.  My parents don’t say ‘Wow, we’re 17 trillion dollars in debt, have a good day at school!'”  — Female Student

“We only debate at home about politics and say how we feel, not moving on our stances.  It was nice to actually discuss something and see people change their mind about stuff.” — Male Student

“This was the first time I got to hear this is actually an open issue looking for a solution.  The only times we’ve talked about it, I’ve been talked at and not spoken with.” — Female Student

“This should be talked about a lot at school.  This is real life and we need to talk about it now.  It matters.”  — Male Student

Reflection from Immigration in America:

“In my family, when we talk about it, we may have different opinions, but we’re all coming from the same place.  It was good to actually talk about this with people from different backgrounds.” — Male Student

“It’s good we didn’t just talk about what affected us, but how it impacts people from all over the country…how this conversation would be if we were living in Arizona or someplace else.” — Male Student

“I think this type of conversation is more productive and beneficial than how the country has been talking about it.” — Female Student

“This is better than the debates we’ve had in class.  It is not as much about defending everything.  You can have an opinion without fear of being looked down upon.  The forum allows us to actually talk about it.  I’m heard, not judged.” — Female Student

94 down. How many to go?

5 Feb


Project leaders, Bernie Stein and Etana Jacobi, led a focus-group forum on the state of racial and ethnic tensions in the U.S. this past Saturday.  The conversation highlighted the varying degrees of discrimination and acceptance participants have felt and witnessed throughout their lifetimes, and national trends on how Americans feel about racial and ethnic relations.  Information collected from this forum will be used towards a possible rewrite of the NIF Racial and Ethnic Tensions guide.

We will be at Long Beach High School this week, so keep a look out for our next entry about the big 1-0-0!

Deepening Democracy Project In the News!

28 Jan


Check out our feature in East Meadow Life, Plainview Life, and Inside Merrick!  Big thanks to Roman Kudryashov for the great press!

23415_4427612371571_1220551328_nEast Meadow Life– What We Talk About When We Talk About Democracy 

100 Here We Come!

8 Dec

We are about to hit and pass NINETY COMPLETED FORUMS this week!  Please check out our completed forums page to see where we have been and contact us to bring one to your neighborhood!

Rachel Santos on Deliberation

30 Nov

Rachel is a student at Mepham High School and recently participated in a forum on the national debt.  Below is her take on the discussion and the process of deliberation.

As young adults in the United States, it is of paramount importance that we understand politics and have an interest in them.  While the poor economic state might not be a major concern for a majority of teenagers, it will be because we are the generation that will have to deal with these enormous financial problems. Not only did this program educate me on the current economic situation, but it enabled me to take on a new thought process.  I always knew this country had tremendous debt, but I wasn’t aware of all the possible solutions to the problem.  

My experiences in this program proved to me why it is so difficult to solve this issue because even around my own small class, there were many different opinions.  While I strongly believe in option two and believe we must immediately work on this issue and not spend money we don’t have, I was able to gain insight from my peers and see how other plans could work too and how the one I support does have flaws.  I am fortunate to have taken part in this program for I have become a more aware citizen and have a better understanding of how government operates.  In addition, this program can benefit all students because as we progress through our teenage years, we too, will have the opportunity to play a direct role in government.