Over the past several months here at Welcoming Long Island, we’ve been working on an innovative project at Patchogue-Medford High School in collaboration with Herstory Writers Workshop. The project incorporates our very successful “Welcoming Reading Circle” technique, which uses stories from the Herstory Latinas Write/Escriben anthology.
Having seen success in using this tool with community members in Brentwood, Port Jefferson, and with Suffolk County Government officials, I was compelled to use this method with Patchogue-Medford High School Students.
I initially proposed the idea to school officials last year. They agreed that it would be a good idea to implement a community building workshop at their school, as it had been a site of tension in the past.
Our two-day workshop was hosted in the classroom of Mrs. Reilly, who was very excited and eager to incorporate the Welcoming Reading Circle technique.
We were fortunate enough to have Latinas Write/Escriben author Stephany Ramirez as our guest reader. She recited her short story, “To Hold You In My Arms,” a heartwarming tale about a young girl migrating from the Dominican Republic to New York, and after several years, meeting her mother for the first time at John F. Kennedy Airport. Her story resonated with students in various ways, as many had gone through a similar experience or could identify with it on a personal level.
Also joining us was Silvia Heredia from Herstory Writers Workshop, who acted as facilitator. We discussed several topics with the students, including what changes they thought would improve their own communities, as well as what has been a major source of divisiveness at the school – the cafeteria. At lunchtime, students usually sat within their own social circles and rarely ventured outside them, which was similar to my own experience growing up in Brentwood.
I also discussed with the students my experiences with bullying in high school and how I was able to channel that energy into my desire to make a difference in my community of Brentwood.
Some students were concerned that one person might not be able to make a difference in the community. I told the students about how a small group of Brentwood community members and I were able to reduce violence in the neighborhood by establishing a community garden. I wanted to show them that through community building activities, a handful of people could change a once-violent neighborhood for the better.
Overall, Mrs. Reilly, Silvia, and myself were thrilled about how well the workshops had been received. Personally, I was touched by the students that came up to us afterwards thanking us for the workshop and showing their support for the work we are doing. We would also like to thank the Patchogue-Medford staff and administrators that stopped by throughout the day. Their presence and interaction with the students made the experience all the more enjoyable.
Our work at Patchogue-Medford High School is only beginning, but given the reception our workshops received, we are looking to continue this work into the coming years; an amazing development for Welcoming Long Island, Herstory, and the Patchogue-Medford School District!