LETTER: Watertown High School Clubs Celebrate SPEAK Week
Sara Berkowitz shares the experiences of students from the week long event at WHS.
“Welcome to SPEAK Week!” exclaimed Watertown Youth Coalition Peer Leaders on Monday morning, March 11th. For the second year in a row, the Watertown Youth Coalition (WYC) Peer Leaders have teamed up with WHS Armenian Club, International Club and Gay-Straight Alliance to allow the school community to Share Personal Experiences and Knowledge (SPEAK). Peer Leader Zac highlighted the importance of SPEAK week by saying that “it shows how diverse our school is in a really great way.”
International club members Amira, Farah and Amir said they like SPEAK week because “it is good for the school to learn about other cultures and languages.” Their advisor and teacher Nyssa Patten elaborated with, “SPEAK week provides an opportunity for many groups of students to share what makes them special. It allows kids to interact with others that they wouldn’t normally associate with.” Activities during this year’s SPEAK week included a photo booth encouraging students to show a part of their identity they are proud of, an Armenian festival, a conversation about how to support a friend who is coming out as gay, Henna tattoo sand face painting. The week culminated on Friday when students engaged in an enjoyable and educational spread of activities, conversations, and displays at the SPEAK week fair.
During SPEAK week, the WYC brought in two speakers to share their own personal experiences and knowledge. The first was Mali Cantor from the Justice Resource Institute who spoke about culture as a lens through which individuals see the world. Mali allowed students to broaden their definition of culture from race and ethnicity, to the sounds, smells and sights in the place they live. She ended the presentation by acknowledging that being proud of one’s identity is difficult in a judgmental world. She encouraged students to get to know each other, and take a look at the world through another person’s lens.
The second presentation was from Speak Out Boston, the LGBTQ Speakers Bureau and PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Alyssa Marino Medina spoke about her experience as a transgender woman and Susan Teague talked about being an ally to her son who is gay. They both told their stories and encouraged the students to “ask anything.” The response was very positive as highlighted by one teacher who said, “The kids were certainly
talking about it today. It was a valuable experience.
SPEAK week came from conversations around ways to help students express their individuality as well as recognizing commonalities within the school. The Watertown Youth Coalition, a program of Wayside Youth & Family Support Network, also recognizes SPEAK week as a protective factor against risky behaviors. Working with their advisor, Wayside’s Sara Berkowitz, the WYC Peer Leaders have learned that when students believe that adults and peers in the school community care about them as individuals they are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. SPEAK week aims to increase connections within the WHS community.
These connections are demonstrated in their most literal form through the SPEAK week 2012 art project that was unveiled in the weeks leading up to SPEAK week. To complete this project, students decorated their own circle by answering the question “Who am I?” Each of these individual identities was connected to show WHS as a whole. The 2012 SPEAK week artproject is now displayed proudly in the Watertown High School cafeteria. (see photo)
SPEAK Week was made possible by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health,Youth at Risk Grant and the Watertown Community Foundation Grant, which the WYC received in collaboration with the World in Watertown and the Watertown Public Schools. Thanks to this collaboration, WYC is also fortunate enough to expand SPEAK week programming to Watertown Middle School by bringing Mike Fowlin in to perform “You Don’t Know Me ‘Til You Know Me.” This will occur on April 22nd and will be open to the Watertown Community.Look for more information on this event in the upcoming weeks.
Peer Leadership Advisor with the Watertown Youth Coalition