High School/Middle School Study Circles

Middle School | High School

A major outcome of the community circles was the successful effort of conducting study circles for Schenectady County high school and middle school students. Organizers and school Superintendents in the seven Schenectady County school districts determined that it was important for "Racism & Diversity" study circles to occur across district lines among students from different schools and backgrounds. Most recently, the topic of bullying has been introduced as a study circle topic as it relates to issues of racial and religious diversity and sexual orientation.

High School Study Circles: Every December (since 2000) high school students from the public schools in Schenectady County converge on the Union College campus for two days of study circles. More than 1,900 students from seven districts have participated in study circles to date. In 2008 and 2009, high school students from the North Colonie School Districts joined their Schenectady County neighbors for the high school study circle program. Student study circles are led by student facilitators who have been participants in at least one previous study circle program and have had eight hours of facilitator training. The study circle discussions conclude with an "Action Forum" at the end of the second day when students from each school meet together to develop an action plan to carry out in their individual schools to improve race relations and to better understand diversity.

Middle School Study Circles: At the strong urging of high school study circle participants, the program was expanded to the middle school level in 2002. Nearly 1,200 middle school students from middle schools representing the different public school districts in Schenectady County have participated in study circles using a modified curriculum developed by a committee of SCED members and middle school staff from participating schools. These study circles are led by adult and high school facilitators (SCED volunteers) who also undergo special facilitator training. And, as in the high school program, at the conclusion of the discussion segment of the program, the participants from each school meet together to draw up a proposed action plan to take back to their schools.

Action Outcomes for 2013-12 Middle School Study Circles:

Duanesburg Middle School
In an effort to raise middle schooler's awareness of conflict resolution and how to take proactive steps the following activities were planned:
  • Conduct an inter-school team building event at the Pine Bush Preserve with Mont Pleasant Middle School.
  • Study circle students to visit 6th Grade Character Ed class present a "Speak Up" activity.
Stipend to be used to fund the Pine Bush visit and help play for a school wide assembly.

Central Park Middle School
Increased bullying awareness and launched a campaign to end bullying at CPMS. The students:
  • Made and strategically placed anti-bullying posters through-out the building in an effort to spread the word about the effects of bullying on students, where students can get help and how pledged to make a difference and show tolerance and respect.
  • Plan to kick off the 2014-15 school year with an anti-bullying campaign starting with a large assembly, posters and distributing pledges. Students who pledged to make a difference and show tolerance and respect will be given an anti-bullying bracelet.
The SCED stipend was used to purchase anti-bullying bracelets .

Draper Middle School
The plan is to bring many opportunities for the student population at Draper to experience a variety of ways to interact with each other. The study circles participants felt that bullying continues to be a problem in all 3 grade levels (6-8). The plan is tri-fold:
  • Hold a Malala Day to honor the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban. T-shirts will be ordered and awarded to students demonstrating a love for learning and respect for others' rights.
  • Hold 3 -4 cultural events during the year to celebrate our diversity.
  • Hold a Suburban Vs Urban Shadow Day - Students who participated in the study circles will visit and spend a day with one of the Mont Pleasant study circle participants. Mont Pleasant students will visit Draper in Feb of 2014 and Draper students later in March will visit Mont Pleasant students. This activity's goal is to break down the barriers and stereotypes that students have about each other. Students can engage in a friendship and get to know each other at a personal level. We are also planning to join in the culminating activity of team building by participating in a field trip to Adirondack Extreme Zip Lines Park with all of the study circles participants in the spring of 2014.
  • Participate in a team building field trip to Albany Pine Bush Preserve with the Mont Pleasant study circles participants in the Winter 2014.
  • To create and present media announcements on Fridays with inspiring stories to promote tolerance. Students will show the entire school population an inspiring video story during their regular morning announcements. The goal is to have the students reflect on their own life and empathize with the people in the video. Example: The Malala Yousufzai's story.
Use of stipend - match with funds from Draper MS Student Council, and Peers for Peace Club to pay for the Malala Day T-shirts, and other activity expenses.

Martin Luther King Magnet School
Students at MLK planned to
  • Create an anti-bullying program at MLK
  • Create anti-bullying posters
  • Make anti-bullying video
  • Team Building exercises with Van Antwerp Middle School
  • School visitations
  • Mix-it up lunches
  • Ice Breaker activities
  • Class Visitations
  • Student guided tours of Van Antwerp and Martin Luther King
  • Field trip the Camp Chingagook for final team building event with Van Antwerp students
Use of stipend - for Mix it Up Lunches and Camp Chingagook expenses

Mont Pleasant Middle School
Mont Pleasant Middle School students undertook several activities to embrace the diverse cultures at their and carry this acceptance and attitude out into the community and to promote a peaceful atmosphere within our school by addressing and dealing with the issues of bullying and fighting.
  • The study circle club met twice a month after school to make posters with positive comments and discuss issues facing Mont Pleasant---including the bad press the school received at the beginning of the year.
  • Joined Duanesburg Middle School on a team-building field trip to the Pine Bush Preserve in Albany.
  • Hosted an end of the year lunch for members of the study circles club and each invited a friend to explain what study circles are and to recruit new members for next year.
Use of SCED stipend to help pay expenses for transportation to St. Gabriel's, visit to the Pine Bush, supplies for posters and end of the year luncheon.

O'Rourke Middle School
Set up a Diversity Club to promote diversity and to combat bullying in our school. The club has been formed as a student-led division of our school's Anti-Bullying Committee. Completed the following activities:
  • created an "anti-bullying box" to promote discourse via PA announcements and answers dropped in the box
  • held a poster competition and hung them through-out the school
  • purchased with the SCED stipend the "Let's Get Real" video to show at a school-wide assembly in 2014 and "Stop Walk Talk" bracelets for every middle school student.
They plan to keep the diversity club running, to recruit new members and continue with efforts to combat bullying.

Scotia-Glenville Middle School
Students from the Study Circle group completed the following activities:
  • Hosted a Put Bullying To Bed Day
  • Conducted a kindness challenge school-wide and held a "Kindness Olympics"
  • Assisted in the development of a cyberbullying script for a movie "How to Unmake a Bully" filmed at SGMS in the spring and shown on YouTube
  • Attended the STOP conference at Sienna College
Use of the stipend: The money was used for transportation to STOP conference and to help fund the making of a cyberbullying video.

Action Outcomes foe 2013-14 High School Study Circles:

Burnt Hills students took part in an exchange with Schenectady High School. Students from BHBL first visited Schenectady High and each shadowed a member of the SHS study circle group, followed by a discussion. The activity was repeated a month later when SHS students visited BH-BL. The experience was reported as a great success as the schools are very different, yet students discovered that similarities do exist. The second meeting and conversation was extremely honest and open compared to the first as most felt too shy to convey many of their thoughts . The experiences and realizations of BHBL students were shared in a public forum with interested students during after school meetings which were promoted in advance. It was reported that the students involved benefited greatly by opening their perspectives beyond the microcosm of Burnt Hills.

Duanesburg students planned to shadow students in Mohonasen High School. They are concerned that students in other schools have a perception that students at Duanesburg are "hicks" and they'd like to show them that they live a similar academic life as someone from other schools.

  • MHS Study Circles partnered with the Gay Student Alliance to organize and implement a school wide Day of Silence and a Break the Silence events to bring attention to and protest the harassment and bullying of LGBTQ students. Activities included holding "silent lunches" in both cafeterias for student and teachers, including morning announcements explaining the Day of Silence, a library display of LGBT "friendly" books, participants were interviewed by MHS media class about the Day of Silence to promote understanding of the project as well as encourage interest and student participation and participating in the Albany Breaking the Silence Party.
  • MHS partnered in "Shadowing" with Duanesburg High School and concluded with a working lunch for participants to talk about their experience and hopefully challenged the stereotypes that students often have about their peers from other schools.
  • MHS sponsored the showing of 12 Years a Slave for all 11th graders in the school.
  • MHS SC participated as the Youth Activation Committee for the Special Olympics Unified Basketball Pilot Program in the Capital District to raise awareness and foster social change by promoting attitudes and behaviors of dignity, acceptance and inclusion in schools for students with intellectual disabilities.

Niskayuna study circle students partnered with Students Advocating for a Positive Environment (SAPE) to create a cohesive environment and spread positivity in their school. Activities undertaken included:
  • Tweet positive everyday for a month members of SAPE tweeted compliments to other students at Niskayuna High to brighten up their day and spread the trend of using social media for positive and kind words. Along with this other students were encouraged to tweet positive with us.
  • Sticker Shock we put anti-drug, anti-alcohol and anti-bullying facts on our milk cartons and drinks, so students would be more aware of what they put in their bodies when they use drugs and consume alcohol. The goal of this was to hopefully change the mindsets of the students here at Niskayuna High School.
  • If you really knew me was an activity to bring the school closer together and to try to eliminate cliques. We mimicked the activity from Study Circles, but pinned facts and information onto our bodies every day for a week so that our school would be able to have more school spirit, not judge others, and intermix "groups" to break the barrier.
  • At Niska Day a table display was prepared to show what our club SAPE is all about. We wore tee-shirts designed and paid for by N-CAP that had facts about bullying, drug and alcohol use, and borrowed a prize wheel to spin from Capital Region Reality Check that had facts about tobacco marketing to help pass along our message. We also handed out frisbees and plastic footballs with facts about drug and alcohol usage in minors and anti-bullying facts.

Schenectady students hosted and visited students from the BH/BL High School Diversity Club, and participated in a "shadowing" day where they experienced the school culture and climate of a suburban district, and shared the same experience here at SHS. We accomplished what we set out to do; which was to expose our SHED Club students to a suburban district and dispel any myths or misconceptions they might have about other high schools. We gave them the opportunity to compare similarities and identify differences within each building, and to ask and answer questions about diversity, discrimination, and inclusion. Our students and the students from BH/BL reported having a positive experience as guests and hosts, and having a more realistic understanding of the others' school and community.

Scotia-Glenville High School study circle students planned two events to encourage interaction with others and expand their comfort level in communicating with their peers. Their goal was to send out positive reinforcement and increase compliments exchanged throughout the school to make someone's day better. Working with another group to make their school "no place to hate" , they made fliers and handed out colored candy at lunch to reorganize the lunch room into groups based on the candy color thereby fostering meeting and conversation between students that did not necessarily know each other. The student intermixed at all three lunch periods and feedback from students was that it was fun and they'd do it again just to liven up lunch and do something different! A second activity included passing out post-it-notes with positive comments on them to foster kindness within the school. Other students enjoyed it and joined in. One teacher left a note on each student's desk that day and positive feedback was received from students, faculty and staff.

"We had a meeting just today and were talking about how many of the ideas that came out of study circles are now traditions at Mohonasen-- HUGS Day, Day of Silence, Spread the Word Campaign, 12 Years a Slave In-school field trip, etc. etc. I firmly believe that our involvement in this program has helped to improve the culture of our school for so many...." Diane Blinn, Mohonasen High School

SCED Youth Programs Presented at National Conference: In October 2005, SCED was invited to attend the National Conference of the Study Circle Resource Center held in Northbrook, Illinois. Brian Wright, SCED Steering Committee member, Lesley Adewunmi, Niskayuna High School student and participant and facilitator in the SCED High School Study Circle program and Kay Ackerman, SCED Administrator were community presenters in the workshop, Students Speak Up and Take Action to Break Down Barriers. They shared organizational experiences and stories about the SCED youth programs. Many communities across the country have youth programs but few have programs that bring students together from all the county high (or middle) schools for study circles.