Program Helps Middle School Students Tackle Tough Topics Through Sharing Stories

June 07, 2018 07:02 PM

Issues of race, gender and sexual orientation can all be tough topics to tackle - especially for young teens.

But a program known as Minnesota Youth Story Squad is helping middle school students share their stories and create positive change.


The Story Squad, as students often call it, was so successful in a two-year pilot program at Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School in St. Paul that the University of Minnesota expanded it to Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis.     

The program is allowing a group of eighth-graders - including 14-year-old Sugi Fox - the chance to share and express the challenges they've faced.

U of M professor Jigna Desai said it's giving students the opportunity to empower themselves through storytelling. And it is giving others the chance to do what's called "story listening."

Desai said when people hear about other people's challenges, they change how they interact with them. One of the goals of Story Squad is to allow classmates and their teachers to better understand what various students are experiencing.

Fox's project is entitled "Me."  It's a spoken-word piece addressing stereotypes about African American men.

Through digital storytelling, shown for the first time inside the University of Minnesota's Northrup Auditorium during their eighth-grade graduation ceremony Thursday, Northeast Middle School students debuted their narratives.

Andrew Scoggins, also 14, called his project "Candy Store." It addresses what he's faced being mixed-race:

"People call me names and stuff sometimes based on the way I look and talk," he said.

John Coleman, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the U of M, said the program is meant to reach students at a key age.

"It's so important to reach students in the middle school," he said. "From a college perspective, it's all about how do we help students build that level of self-awareness."

U of M undergraduate students, who also experienced tough times in middle school, are mentoring the young teens - helping them craft their digital narratives.

Northeast Middle School Principal Vernon Rowe said "social-emotional learning"  is highlighted now in a big way.

"What some of these digital stories that took place, that they showed, there were things that just actually had me in tears," Rowe said.


Brandi Powell

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