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My entire life, I have always been that kid in the classroom with her hand up, asking a million questions. Some people might label my desire to ask questions as inquisitive, some might just hope it stops sometime soon. It wasn’t until my work with Arts Integrated Resources that I truly understood the value of a great question. A great question can inspire, it can change perspective, and ignite deep conversation. As part of the Experiential Learning Team, I am not only allowed to ask questions daily, but I’m encouraged to do so. Albert Einstein said “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”
I am an advocate for middle school students because I truly believe that middle school is that formative time when the foundation for adulthood begins. They are questioning everything, even if they aren’t willing to ask them out loud. When I reflect upon my time in middle school, a slew of negative memories come rushing back. I wouldn’t want to relive those days for anything. For me, middle school was probably my toughest time in school. I can still smell middle school. I can still feel middle school. My acne was in full force, my once straight blonde hair was changing into curly dark hair, and I didn’t have the slightest clue who I was or who I wanted to become.
In 7th grade, I was bullied relentlessly by one of the popular girls. For most of the year, there was nothing I wanted more than to not go back to school for another day. The popular girl found everything that made me feel vulnerable, and picked me apart. I desperately needed to find a way to express myself, but I didn’t want to stand out too much, for fear of being teased even more. I silenced my normal inquisitiveness, and instead just let her make me feel unworthy, unnecessary, and unimportant. Why did I choose, in that moment, to be silent?
For some reason, we silence our desire to ask questions as we grow older. We often worry about what others think about us, instead of questioning why they might think something. I, like Albert Einstein, want to learn from yesterday. I want to change the culture of middle school so that kids want to question why something is happening, and figure out a more positive solution. I want to challenge them to not be silent. If only I could have encouraged my middle school self to ask that popular girl how she thought I felt when she teased me, to encourage her to use compassion. If only I could have reminded myself about perspective, to know that this was going to end, and to stay focused on the future. If only I could have just been honest with her. These are just a few of the strategies that we provide to the students in our middle school workshop, Confronting Conflict. My hope is that at some point, even if it is months later, they begin to start questioning their response to conflict, and use the skills we provided to ask questions before responding. I want to learn from my past, live in the present, but also hope for tomorrow. For me, the next generation is my hope for tomorrow.
That is why I felt so strongly about creating Confronting Conflict. This program is specifically designed for 7th and 8th grade students, and encourages all types of learners to be engaged by asking questions, looking at their choices in a different way, and finding positive strategies to help them when the conflicts arise. We strive to give students a multitude of ways to express themselves, and allow for time to practice the new strategies. We encourage these students to think differently, to ask questions, and to be advocates for themselves.
For more information about this program, please visit our Confronting Conflict page.
-Katie Wall, AIR Actor/Facilitator