By: José Cossa, Ph.D.
One of the greatest challenges that children and youth face is fitting into what is perceived as ‘cool’. The ingredients for ‘cool’ often require one or more of the following characteristics: being an opinion-leader; being a fashionista; being an aggressive or violent individual with the ability to instill a sense of dependency or fear in others; having certain looks considered attractive and desirable by others; being wealthy and able to buy friendships through parties and gifts; having access to drugs and alcohol; and, so on. High school students seem to be the most prone to peer pressure as peers determine who fits into their idea of ‘cool’ and who does not fit; thus, the most likely victims of the power inherent in stereotypes, discrimination, ostracism, and bullying potentially leading to suicidal teens.
Since 2011, through its city high schools, Syracuse has been the internationally renowned program named Seeds of Peace (http://www.seedsofpeace.org/?page_id=1249). The goal of the program is to bring American-born and new-American Syracuse City School District’s high school students together, both within schools and across the district, to build strategic relationships, teach conflict management skills, provide tools to address bullying, and assist Seeds and their adult allies to transform their school communities into communities of peace and justice.
This year, for two weeks, 23 Syracuse high school students participated in the Seeds of Peace camp in Otsfield, Maine, from July 23 to August 6. The group comprised students from the five Syracuse City School District high schools, namely Fowler, Nottingham, Institute of Technology at Central (ITC), Henninger, and Corcoran. Six, of the 23 students, were returning Seeds or Peer Supporters (PS), who participated in a leadership training program designed for returning Seeds, and 17 first-time campers. InterFaith Works, through its Community Wide Dialogue, conducts Dialogue training sessions for the Syracuse campers.
As a group comprising American-born and new-Americans, in a city divided by the ills of injustice and its resulting conflict, learning skills leading to effective Dialogue was a critical component of the camp experience. Students were introduced to the criticalness of creating a safe space, sharing honestly about one’s personal journey and struggles, developing empathy for other’s struggles as we learn about them through their stories, and nurturing healthy relationships through respectful and honest engagement. InterFaith Works’ Community Wide Dialogue plans to further engage the Seeds in their high schools during the course of the school year. In addition to post-camp continuity, the program would benefit from sending more Seeds to camp in future years.
Recently, three of our Seeds (Cimone, Ella, and Ranya) and I participated as a panel in the Thursday Morning Roundtable (TMR), a weekly civic forum bringing together a mix of citizens to learn about and discuss community issues and problems. Listen to the broadcast here: http://www.wcny.org/tmr/20131003_tmr.mp3
In order to have a greater impact in our communities, a more effective Seeds program calls for (a) community members to serve as mentors for Syracuse Seeds and to sponsor the program; (b) School administrators to create the space in their schools, to allow this program to thrive and to enhance its efficiency by supporting it with human and material resources; and, (c) institutions and partners to create a wider awareness of its existence by word of mouth and a myriad of advertising campaigns. Therefore, we call for all media agencies (e.g., newspapers, magazines, radios, televisions, blogs, podcasts, etc.) to help us brand out program to generate a ‘cool’ effect among the youth in our city and its vicinities and serve as a model for other communities in the country.
Center for Desease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Suicide Prevention: Youth Suicide. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from Center for Deasese Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html