In this time in our history what could be more appropriate than the question: What Makes a Healthy Community? With natural disasters pummeling our coastlines, prairies, and descending, upending and challenging all our status quos, we need “community” more than ever to offer the support and pool resources. So it was against that backdrop that The Charles School, in Columbus, Ohio framed the 2013 MCNC Student Leadership Conference.
The Charles School was perfectly poised to lead this discussion as it is unique in the MCNC network for it’s membership in a kindergarten through University network. Educating youth, beginning with the Graham Family of Schools and ending at Ohio Dominican University it reaches a broad spectrum and works with each to address unique challenges, while developing a collaborative network of students and educators. Comprised of four k-12 schools, led by Greg Brown, each institution prides itself for Expeditionary Learning, a feature that engages students in active roles within the community in a variety of ways. The Middle School promotes job shadowing and internships, the high school immerses students in two week long Expeditions each year and partnerships with the University, local hospitals, social service providers, etc connect students to the “real world” and community building from a very early age.
Adding to the excitement of a great partnership and host of new activities, after 20 years of conference development for youth and three years of building a unique program combining college coursework, community service and on line networking, MCNC undertook to produce a 40 minute documentary, “Walk With the Dreamers,” which featured the journey of 5 students from diverse geographical, economic and cultural backgrounds through the steps of preparing, coming and participating in the conference. The film’s first twenty minutes were brought to Ohio two days prior to everyone’s arrival and the final sections were filmed, edited and then premiered on the spot with the assistance of local production teams from Mills-James Media.
MCNC SLI 2013 was a breakthrough in imagination, process and opportunity for everyone involved. 40 Host Ambassadors from The Charles School worked with advisors, Chris Spackman and Michele Lowry for 9 months and created an experience that broke the mold. Students from 24 schools across the country arrived and engaged in an icebreaker designed by Junior, Tobechi Titus. They were sent to rooms to meet their conference teammates from around the country and tasked to create “indispensible” buildings for healthy communities. The buildings were made of painted milk cartons (yay! Recycling) and students painted, papered, and collaged their creations before locating them on a huge model city. Over dinner, they met in tables and began the serious work of talking about serious issues that produce unhealthy communities and using the information and homegrown projects they had spearheaded all year to offer solutions for safety, housing, education, welfare and heathcare concerns. The degree of involvement and quality of proposals was staggering and students bonded around intellectual agendas from day one.
The next day was physically challenging. An entire day of high and low ropes courses, GPS tracking, team sports, archery and tomahawk throws. By the evening’s campfire teams had become families, frightened youngsters had been supported to dangle from belay harnesses and everyone was ready to bed down in preparation for the two days of REAL WORK ahead. Months of planning and working with The Graham Schools’ Debbie Addison yielded 24 sites where students worked, learned, and explored the “healthy” side of Columbus, Ohio. They worked on planting at Franklin Conservancy, organized materials at Habitat for Humanity, observed human dissection at Ohio Health and toured The Children’s Hospitals’ latest innovations in making young children with serious health problems feel like ”kids.” They engaged in two days of Yoga training, worked with autistic youth, engaged in poverty simulations and boxed more food than the Ohio State Football Team in one hour, breaking records at the Mid Ohio Foodbank. Potential journalism students visited the Columbus Dispatch and the local news station and got to cuddle a baby kangaroo!
When all was said and done, the students were exhausted, but still not done with their work. They joined in four groups representing the core pillars of the conference: Healthcare, Social Services, Arts and Recreation and Education and pooled their information and ideas and made a report to the assembled group, dressed in their party best for the film Premiere at the IMAX screening at COSI (Center of Science and Industry).
Needless to say, seeing yourself magnified 10,000 fold is an awesome experience and the film heralded the passion, intelligence and beauty of these students, all that came before to build this program and those who will follow and make it even better in the years to come.
The SLI program is not just a conference or a school trip for deserving students. The conference preparation relies heavily on using social media to spark deep conversation and transfer of knowledge. Each September hosts work with Megan Lee, MCNC SLI Intern and Terry Born, to develop a survey that all national participants take when they join the SLI Facebook Community, MCNC Student Voices @Facebook.com. This survey raises questions and concerns that youth around the country have and starts to conversations within each school. Which has more influence: good or bad communities? Do healthy communities inevitably survive or do unhealthy communities with power hold the most sway? These are some of the issues raised by our young people. As we move, now, to the issue of Social Justice, we foresee explorations of immigration, prison reform, educational equity and opportunity and religious persecution to name a few.
Each weekend MCNC and the hosts post questions that have been grappled with in their classes and in their research and a lively forum ensues including youth from every corner of our nation. These discussions also arise from the initial Pecha Kuchas that are posted by the SLI Innovation Lab schools. The Pecha Kuchas, (10 slides, 10 seconds of narrative) are used to share team focus in each school. As the year progresses students participate in Open Mic and upload original videos of their work in the Community and a mini TED Talk they make for their student body. This year we will be adding the MCNC Poetry Café and Gallery, where members will post original artwork and videos of orginal poetry and Rap
It’s always been our hope that the MCNC Student Conference had an “afterlife” and this year we have seen evidence of that truly happening. From Brooklyn College’s great mentorship project: Senior Letters to the NYC schools volunteering at Soup Kitchens, City Harvest and local pantries, we see the lasting impact this program has on those who have participated. On a recent outing which gathered SLI alumni from four schools, students said: “We don’t feel like we finished the work with community. The conference only showed us what we could do. Now we can come back to our hometowns and actually do it. “
MCNC Makes a Movie
This year, after 20 years of expanding student leadership, challenges and accomplishment, MCNC produced a documentary. “Walk With the Dreamers” was conceived at the Los Angeles SLI Conference in 2012, when several extraordinary teachers (Alex Brilliandt of Greer Middle College High School and Matthew Osmon of Mott Middle College, broached the concept to Terry Born, coordinator of the SLI Program. The Los Angeles experience was so well organized and the students so committed and passionate about their role in shaping the future of our country that it seemed a lost opportunity that no one had captured these young adults in their formative development and the program that honed their passion into positive community change. Twelve schools contributed to the film’s first section which chronicles 5 students: Adina Guzman of RFWagner Jr. SSAT, Ralphy Lopez of Brooklyn College Academy, in NYC, Cesar Romero of El Centro,MCHS in Dallas, Alyx Farkas of Greer MCHS and Chloe Schockling of Brashier MCHS in Greenville, on their journey to the conference. The final segments document the events and learning curve that these students, joined by 200 peers, experience in Columbus. The film is a masterful combination of process and human interest and is designed to be both teaching tool and fundraising vehicle. Written and directed by Terry Born and Megan Lee, it was made possible by the volunteer work of Alex Brilliandt, Matthew Osmon, Alexis Crawford (Academy of Health Sciences in Md.) and the extraordinary contributions of German Vargas, professor of film and video and editor from Costa Rica.
Copies are available at Amazon.com and Createspace.com for a small fee, which will be used to support the program.
You can also make a tax deductible donation to www.mcnc.us/donate and select “film”
A taste of the dream can be seen at https://vimeo.com/51176928