Check out this blog written by a student from Head Start Learning Center which addresses how, through leading discussions focusing on challenging social issues, she was able to help bring about a more open and empathetic environment for her fellow classmates!
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Last year, our teachers came up with an idea to get students to openly discuss various issues they were facing. However, it was easier said than done. Not many students were willing to open up about the problems they faced. 
  
The teachers finally decided to take on a different route. Five seniors- three boys and two girls, including myself- were called up to take charge of this initiative. We immediately agreed. The boys and girls from grade six and upwards were separated and thrust into different classrooms. It was now our job to lead this discussion.
  
From the beginning, we knew that this was not going to be that easy. The younger students sat in front, slightly more enthusiastic and oblivious to what was happening whilst the older kids slunk back, not wanting to be a part of this discussion. 
  
We took off. Initially, beginning the discussion was difficult. How do we start this off? If we took a direct approach, got straight to the point many girls would have felt reluctant and hesitant to speak. So we decided to tell them why they were here, reassure them that they weren’t in any trouble and no teachers. That had gotten them to loosen up a little bit.
  
The topic given to us was ‘what is friendship?’ and different sub categories. There was no right or wrong in this answer. We’d gotten more input from the younger girls, namely sixth and seventh. They were bursting with answers, so much that we didn’t have enough space on the chalk board to write them all down! A few shy hands raised here and there from grade eight and nine, otherwise not that many were willing to talk.We pressed on, divulging into newer discussions. What do you tell your friends? Do you trust them? Are you a more social person? Are you able to get along with your peers? We got the answers we were expecting, some mixed ones here and there.
  
We finally pushed into more sensitive topics i.e are you friends with the opposite gender and do you experience any problems with your peers? We beat around the bush with this; we didn’t want to give them the impression that they were being forced to talk about this.The subject of boys and girls being friends was met with mixed views. While grade six was adamant that boys and girls couldn’t get along, grade seven thought otherwise. They argued that they just needed to get to know each better through interaction. This was spoken about passionately because they had recently completed a yearlong Design For Change project- can boys and girls be friends? By the end of it, the class seemed to more united and able to talk freely with one another. A spark of animosity quickly fuelled up between the feuding classes, but we ended it and moved on to the next topic, the matter of bullying. Many of the girls experienced problems of feeling singled out, getting teased or not fitting in. Even the seniors joined in, voicing out their troubles. This was issue where we heard many voices speak up; everyone was able to agree on common problems. The girls were slowly uniting. During common assemblies, I had never heard many people talk much but here, in a more secluded, comfortable environment with people being able to relate with one another, I think that they finally felt at ease. I feel proud of myself for being able to maturely lead this discussion, quell the arguments and help out my schoolmates by having them open up to me.
  
  
This blog was written by Varshini Nathan (Grade X) from Head Start Learning Center.