A frank discussion among freshmenThe plan was for freshmen to transition easier into high school.
By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
The plan was for freshmen to transition easier into high school.
But what happened at the close of a two-day seminar was closer to a transformation, Red Wing High School English and theater teacher Jillyne Raymond said.
After undergoing challenging discussion and team-building activities, ninth-graders gathered to reflect on the program's results. Reflection included an open-mic portion, allowing students to share hardships and apologies.
Raymond wondered if anyone would come forward. They did.
She said 60 of the class's 210 students got up and spoke.
"I had goose bumps for over an hour," she said. "The kids were amazing."
Many talked about difficulties fitting in. They spoke to fellow classmates about teasing they'd endured. Racism, weight issues, appearance, sexual preference and poverty were addressed.
Other students apologized directly to others for causing hurt feelings.
"On their own they brought up so many issues of humanity that as a society we should be addressing," Raymond said.
The outpouring of emotion was the culmination of a program led by Project Legos, a Minneapolis-based organization devoted to inspiring youths to become agents of change, community leaders and volunteers.
The organization was co-founded by 2003 Red Wing High School graduate Michael Jackson, who led many of the sessions this week.
Ninth-graders were intentionally targeted for the program, Raymond and health teacher Lisa Hanson said.
"Let's get at them before they have a whole year of school under their belt," Jackson said.
Jackson and other Project Legos members led students through activities ranging from frank discussion about stereotyping to physical activities aimed at team building.
During one session, the ninth-graders faced uncomfortable questions: Who is cool? Point them out. What makes them cool? What social group do these people belong to?
Then they had to answer. Honestly.
Making it uncomfortable was intentional, Jackson said. That's how you extract the truth, break down the barriers.
"There's no way you can hide in the awkward lens," Jackson said.
He said homecoming week was a perfect time to hold the program. In rural communities like Red Wing, "that's when the biggest issues of popularity and privilege kind of come out.
"When people forget that we're all humans," he said.
Raymond, who wrote the $2,800 grant request for the program, called the program a success.
"It was just amazing," she said. "Everyone said you've got to do this again."