The Youth-Adult Partnership Team at Twin Valley Middle/High School, located in Whitingham, VT, came together on Thursday, September 14th to start this year with aspirations to build connections across the school community and help create a positive environment for learning. In their introduction and opening reflections, they reflected on the actions that had helped them make progress last year and looked forward to the new ideas and energy for this year. In the past, bringing the whole school community together through student-led assemblies, facilitating community building activities with the 6th grade class, and using their climate survey data to identify priorities common to both students and staff had enabled them to move forward. Looking ahead, they committed to collaborating with other school teams and initiatives, such as the JEDI Team (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and GESA (Gender Equality Student Association), to add to the momentum.   

That sense of direction and energy came in part from the history that returning team members shared. It also came from a sequence of facilitated dialogues that began with identifying strengths – in each person individually, and in the community collectively – then moving to challenges.

This strengths-based approach created a safe and constructive container to begin talking about challenges in the school community, and while the exchange was delicate at times as team members found their way, it became increasingly honest and caring, connecting the team in powerful ways. They were honoring one another’s experiences and thinking and feeling their way to next steps. 

For now, these next steps include: collaborating with the new director of Climate, Inclusion and Belonging to run school assemblies, and joining the JEDI Team, which will be designing and facilitating staff and student learning experiences in collaboration with UP for Learning. This group of individuals connected across differences, engaged in deep and meaningful reflections on the racism, homophobia, and bullying in their community. They balanced fun and levity with profound truthfulness and vulnerability. UP for Learning is excited to continue to support the development of these youth and adult leaders dedicated to change in their community!

Written by Harry Frank and Katie Ingraham, UP Program Directors