How Students Are Taking Over Courageous Conversations

Jason Reynolds, right, and Ibram X. Kendi, showcasing their book, which was part of Courageous Conversations last year.  (Courtesy of Robert van Kolken)

Students will take more control of Courageous Conversations, according to teachers and students who run the program.  

During the Courageous Conversations student meeting on Oct. 20, students discussed plans to begin teaching their peers about topics of their choosing.

Courageous Conversations, meetings over Zoom with the whole school, have always aimed to inform SHA students and include them in meaningful conversations about social issues happening around us. To better their efforts, M.E. Hersey, a ninth grade English teacher, began student meetings after Courageous Conversations to share ideas on how the discussions should change to get more students involved. 

Students are going to be able to share their thoughts on various issues.

— Dominic Bruce-Moore, a student who attended the planning meetings

Students are going to be able to share their thoughts on various issues,” said Dominic Bruce-Moore, a student who attended the meetings.

Many students said they have been uninterested in Courageous Conversations, including last year and so far this year. The flow of information and communication is unsteady, and teachers and students working on the program want to change it for the better.

Courageous Conversations were introduced last school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the presidential election and the rise of BLM protests after the death of George Floyd. School officials including Assistant Principal Dena Cooper, Hersey and others wanted to create a safe place for students and teachers to talk about the events going on in our world and to ask questions about them.

Courageous Conversations were whole-school meetings over Zoom, with teachers presenting a topic and students unmuting themselves or typing in the chat their reactions or thoughts. Teachers including Hersey, biology teacher Kayla Silvers and Latin teacher Dygo Tosa came up with the material for the discussions, including the book Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.

So far this year, the Courageous Conversations teacher committee has presented information over the SmartBoard in each Griffin Group. Student spokespersons were chosen to represent their Griffin Groups, taking turns speaking to the group and making it difficult to communicate efficiently. Several meetings have been about the pandemic and other health issues, as in the video below.

The student meetings after Courageous Conversations have come up with their plans for the future of Courageous Conversations, said to begin taking place after Christmas break.

“We know what other students are interested in,” said senior Ti’miera Parker in an interview in early November after mentioning how teachers were unsure what topics students wanted to discuss.

The student-led lesson teaching group plans to have leaders guide small sections of people and teach them one general topic. Each group will be learning about different branches of the main topic such as mental health and gun violence. The group will be expected to create presentations and display it to every Griffin Group so we can learn from one another about one central idea.

“This is a time for students all over SHA to come together and really share about real life situations that are happening in our communities [and] in our world.” said Ashley Judkins, a member of the student-led teaching group.

Students and teachers are hoping the new system will be more engaging to students, with lessons taking into account student interests.

“This will really catch people’s attention,” said Judkins, “make them feel more heard and welcome because we are going to be in smaller groups instead of a big group thing where only select voices are highlighted.”