Going Back To High School

I spent the morning with 120 seniors at Collegiate School, a private school in Henrico County. I was there to facilitate a series of conversations between the students and 10 people who are changing the way we engage in the Richmond region. It was all part of Collegiate's Senior Seminar, which takes the students in small groups through a series of conversations and discussions about a variety of issues over the course of the year. Recently, they've been focused on the Richmond community. I found the day to be slightly more challenging than I expected, but also refreshing.The people joining m e on the community side of the conversation represented an interesting swath of Richmond -- sports, women, the environment, publishing, culture, community. Most people represented multiple perspectives. Elaine Summerfield and Brenna Muller represented Hands On Greater Richmond, which partners volunteers with organizations looking for help. Tony Harris and Parker came from RVA Magazine, which is a growing force in Richmond's cultural scene. Amanda Robinson and Kenny represented Gallery 5 and the Lucent Phoenix Community Resource Center. Angela Patton from Camp Diva and Larry Lindsey from Fire Contractors were also at the table. We also had Paul Manning from U-TURN, which focuses on high-performance athletics, faith and kids, and Jon Davidow from the Back Porch Initiative, which is a catalyst for conversations about energy and environmental issues in town. The conversation started in a large group. The first question I asked was who were three interesting speakers they'd had visit. Someone mentioned a name, and I asked why he was so interesting. "Because he was a pompous ****," came a reply from the room. After a few more questions, it was revealed that the speaker came across as self-important, and spoke down to the students. Then I had the students form groups of 4-6 and briefly discuss a couple of questions -- What have you learned about the Richmond region during seminar that is important? What do we need to do to make the day meaningful and interesting for them? What do we need to know about Collegiate or about them as a group that we might not know. The last question elicited some great responses, which boiled down into one important message: Don't put us into whatever box you carry around labeled "Collegiate." Treat us like individuals, and look at us as human beings. It made me wonder what sort of baggage we give students when we put them into boxes, and define them as something other than individual people. The rest of the day involved small groups of students spending some time with each of the community guests. Essentially, each student got to hear from two community guests. At the end of the session, all of the faculty in the room said that the energy and interaction with the students was the highest they'd seen in the seminars. Funny what happens when you lead with questions, and let the people in the room own some of it.