Conflict & Community

Project Title: Speak Out – A Dialogue about Conflict and Community
Grade(s): 9 – 12
Content Areas: Language Arts

Project Description
The Centennial Learning Center students enrolled in the Speak Out: A Dialogue about Conflict and Community class, explored a variety of real-world issues through reading, writing, and extensive interviewing of community members who had experienced war, either as soldiers, peace activists or refugees. During class discussions and writing, students tackled tough subjects, from violence and conflict in schools, to the war in Iraq, to the Holocaust and other genocides around the world. Their conversations were complex and thoughtful.

As the students wrote poetry, read stories, and interviewed each other about their own experiences with conflict, they also listened to speakers from the community representing a variety of different perspectives. These young people then compiled their work with the voices of community members to publish an anthology of voices on war and peace. Our goal was to help students develop listening, critical thinking and writing skills while learning more about how personal, local, national and international conflicts affect people.

Through a partnership with Write Around Portland, a local non-profit organization that promotes writing as a mode of self-expression for disenfranchised communities, our students were able to participate in a weekly writers workshop. Many of the pieces they wrote were included in the anthology alongside stories from community members. The culminating event included a public reading of the students’ work and raised nearly $1,000 for local African refugees who have fled war-torn areas.

This class began as a teacher-directed exploration about the nature of humanity and the impact of conflict on communities. The idea for this course and service project originated from the desire to explore war and violence through a non-political lens – it is easy for young people (and adults) to see only the black and white and we wanted to move the conversation to the gray areas – “What do human beings experience when they are in war, witnessing war, or as a bystander?” We wanted to have conversations about “What conditions create the environment where war and violence exist?” We asked these questions in lieu of “What causes war?” to keep the conversation away from the political controversy and focused on our essential topic. Our goal was to examine what people think, how they feel, and what they believe about war and violence in their communities. By framing the question this way we got to answers related to the human condition as opposed to the political factors that precipitate war.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this class was the natural evolution from teacher-directed to student initiated. As the students began to connect with the topic, experience the power of writing and interviewing to enhancing their understanding of other people and themselves, it became a project they owned and felt committed to completing. Our activities became arranged around the questions students asked, thoughts they expressed in writing, and direct requests. Although the detailed, daily template for this class appears rigid, it was consistently altered and rearranged to meet the needs and interests of students. What you see is the refined version, representing two quarters of teacher and student collaboration.

Teacher Profiles:
Angela Nusom has been working at Centennial Learning Center for six years, first as a Transition Specialist for the mental health team, and then as the School to Work Coordinator and College Advocate. A social worker by training, she has worked in Zimbabwe, Africa and draws extensively on her experience there when working with students. She teamed up with the Language Arts teacher for this project out of a commitment to raising student awareness about global issues while developing the art of writing as a vehicle for self-expression.

MaryAnn LaZelle has been a Language Arts teacher for over 20 years and brings a vast amount of experience teaching reading and writing to students of varying levels. She is also passionate about helping young people develop the ability to empathize with those who are different, and increasing their commitment to being positive members of the community.

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