New We Clubs fostering unity
Keller Junior High seventh-grade student Kyra loves her school’s new We Club because it is a place where she feels accepted.
“I can come here and express myself and be who I really am,” she said. “People know I’m here for them, and they’re here for me.”
Keller, like every other District 54 junior high school and Lincoln Prairie, launched a We Club this year to foster unity among the district’s diverse population and offer another opportunity for students to get involved. The goals of the We Clubs are for students to foster a strong sense of identity and belonging, to understand and embrace differences, and to promote equality by planning events and activities that bring the diverse school communities together.
“We want students to appreciate and value the differences among each other and to respect that, and ultimately to apply these concepts and turn them into action,” District 54 Instructional Coach Seika Kobari said.
The We Clubs meet once a month after school. Each meeting focuses on a different topic and concludes with students reflecting in their We Club journals, the covers of which state “I Am Because We Are.”
The first club meeting focused on identity. At Keller, students completed I Am, I Can and I Believe statements to get to know one another. Students described themselves with words such as honest, powerful, capable and amazing. Their “I Can” statements ranged from baking and Rollerblading to helping others, while their belief statements included “I believe in my friends” and “I believe we all are one.” One student shared the following quote: “I AM are two of the most powerful words, for what you put after them shapes your reality.”
“We Club is a place where students can apply and practice the social and emotional skills they are learning about in class,” District 54 Instructional Coach Dana Scalzitti said.
The focus of the second meeting was diversity. At Keller, students made chain links out of the statements they had shared at the first meeting. They also each talked to six other club members to find a similarity and a difference between themselves and the other person. The room was abuzz with chatter as students talked about books, music, pets, families and a variety of other topics.
“I like it so far,” Kyle, a Keller seventh-grade student said about We Club. “It seems like a happy, fun place.”
The first schoolwide activity planned by the clubs was the Mix-It-Up Lunch on Oct. 22. During lunch, students sat next to someone new, part of a national event created by Teaching Tolerance. The We Club facilitators use resources on the organization’s website, Tolerance.org, to create activities and support the monthly themes.
At Mead’s Mix-It-Up Lunch, students sat with others who shared their birthday month. At Keller, students played “Would You Rather” to spark conversations.
“We Club is about getting to know and accept ourselves and each other and how we can impact the community,” said Michael Kaper, a social worker at Keller and co-sponsor of the school’s We Club. “The Mix-It-Up Lunch was about expressing that districtwide.”
“I liked meeting new people and learning new things about my friends,” Keller seventh-grader Kyra said of the Mix-It-Up Lunch.
Keller We Club members concluded their second meeting by reflecting on how diversity is expressed in different ways, sharing one thing they liked about the Mix-It-Up Lunch, and suggesting other events the club should plan. Kaper told students the P.E. teacher had mentioned mixing up P.E. classes, which one We Club participant proclaimed “would be cool.”
“The We Clubs have hit the ground running, but we’re expecting their impact to spread and go even deeper as the school year progresses,” District 54 Instructional Coach Dilshad Patel said.