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New Program Fosters Upper School Community

Max R., 11th grade; Hermona H., 12th grade; Julia C., 11th grade; and Parisa H., 12th grade, created a new Upper School program.

Four UPrep Upper School Students Design and Run LEAD

In fall 2021, a new Upper School program called LEAD (Listen, Engage, Acknowledge, and Discuss) was launched. Designed to replace Community Conversations, which was co-led with adults, LEAD is entirely student-run by peer facilitators. It takes place once a month during advisory when students gather in assigned grade-level groups for facilitated conversations. UPrep Magazine sat down with Julia C., 11th grade; Hermona H., 12th grade; Parisa H., 12th grade; and Max R., 11th grade, the four students who are designing and leading LEAD. We learned more about their goals and how they hope it will foster community at UPrep. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What are your goals for the LEAD program this year?

Max: One of our biggest goals was to have a bit more coherence to the program throughout the year than we felt like we had with Community Conversations. This year, each conversation is going to have a focus on a different aspect of a person’s identity with thematic topics. It’s an opportunity for students to hear ideas about real-world issues from their peers outside of a classroom setting.

Julia: A lot of our students are very aware of what’s happening around the world. I think UPrep does a good job of encouraging people to care about issues. However, I don’t think that UPrep typically gives students an opportunity to constructively talk about those issues. LEAD is an opportunity for students to have hard conversations in a monitored and constructive setting.

Parisa: I think we often fall into an echo chamber, bouncing the same ideas around and not exploring nuances. We hope that LEAD will create a space where people who have different opinions can feel included in the conversation.

Max: Our goal is to open up the doors a little bit in the time that we’re given and introduce these topics and get people thinking. If people leave with more questions than answers, that’s totally OK. We want people to wonder about issues that are prevalent in the world that they haven’t really thought about before.

How do you create a safe and supportive space for this type of conversation?

Julia: There are two things that each group does at the beginning of every conversation: we have space for a land acknowledgement and space to set or review principles and intentions.

Parisa: We assume that everyone has good intentions for what they’re trying to say, but not everyone has the right words to articulate how they’re feeling. [Reviewing principles and setting intentions] makes it possible to call each other into the conversation. Principles that we hope groups will have are respect and speaking from the “I” point of view. Honoring confidentiality is also essential.

Hermona: It is important to have an open mind. Not everyone is going to have the same perspective or opinion on an issue. These conversations give students the opportunity to reflect on their identities, the experiences they have had, and how those experiences affect the perspectives they have on issues.

Max: It really ties into the “socially responsible” piece of the school’s mission. I think what’s cool about our school that I don’t see in a lot of other places is that we have programs like LEAD and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) where we are talking about the bigger picture and our social-emotional health. And I think that’s what makes UPrep a great community: we’re not just focused on the educational aspects and sports; we’re also focused on the human aspect.

Please tell our readers about the two LEAD conversations that have taken place so far.

Hermona: The first conversation was focused on leadership. We think there is a great misconception about what a leader is, what they look like, and how they should act. We wanted to show people that leaders can be anybody in the room—including them! We watched a Drew Dudley TED Talk about leadership (“Everyday Leadership: The Lollipop Moment”) and then discussed it in our groups. The second conversation was about the term “political correctness” and how it can impact our voices. Students were asked to think about contexts in which they felt empowered to use their voices, and contexts and situations where they did not, and why.

Julia: Something that the first conversation lacked was different perspectives because the TED Talk was just one person. With the second conversation, we were able to use The Seattle Times video series “Under Our Skin” that included a variety of people who had different views about political correctness. I thought that was valuable because people were able to draw from a diverse range of opinions.

What have you learned about yourself through participating in LEAD?

Julia: Something that I’ve learned about myself is how collaborative leadership is. When I was little, I thought that I could be the leader of a room all alone. I’ve learned that everyone’s opinion is just as important as my opinion.

Hermona: I have learned that to be a leader, you need to be passionate, be a good listener, and be caring.

Max: I have learned problem-solving and people skills. Within our team, we don’t always agree on everything. Something I’ve been working on is when someone has an idea that’s conflicting with mine, I shut my mouth and try to listen and understand the other person.

Parisa: As a student journalist, I love talking to people, asking them questions, and hearing their opinions. I learned I was looking to create spaces where people could be comfortable with being uncomfortable.


By Director of Marketing and Communications Mary Beth Lambert


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