It happened by word of mouth. Stacey Cruise, of the American-Paradigm Charter School and new leader of a failed Philadelphia middle school struggling with violence and abysmal reading scores, happened to hear about Alternatives to Violence Project. The Delaware Valley AVP Council was offering a summer series of workshops in the city’s most drug infested neighborhood. Dr. Cruise wanted to hear more. It was a hot August day when four AVP facilitators, Confident Carolyn Schodt, Always Adam Mitchell, Reasonable Ronald Barnes and Idealistic Irv Friedlander paid a visit with the school staff. We shared personally and powerfully, grateful to be able to show the Blaze Nowara DVD What is Violence?” And things happened fast.
On August 23, 2012, the invitation came: to do an AVP BASIC Workshop for the entire staff (80!) of the new Memphis Street Academy Middle School, on September 5 – 7, 2012.
Confident Carolyn said, “Yes, we can!” and started emailing up and down the East Coast. The most phenomenal response took place! By Monday morning August 27, twenty facilitators had signed up, ready to travel from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia, to augment the local team. People heard and responded to the excitement of the challenging opportunity to work with an entire middle school staff.
Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting afforded a place for team building the day before the workshop, and for meals each night. Friends provided home hospitality. The school covered the expenses.
The school building was a chaotic job site of work in progress with painters working feverishly to complete the work and furniture arriving for assembly. We had six classrooms available for the six workshops. The participants were teachers, hall monitors, administrators and support staff. All were newly hired for a completely fresh start of this new American-Paradigm Charter School, the Memphis Street Academy. This meant the school staff had not worked together and teachers were anxious to get their lessons plans finalized and their rooms set up. School has going to open September 11, 2012, and they were being “invited” to participate in AVP. There were no functioning telephones, copy machines or food service.
We observed our principle of “volunteers only” in the breach. The staff were expecting “another Inservice” and were surprised by the lack of handouts and the emphasis on the personal experience. By the end of the first day, we had mixed reviews. The participants were quick, and wanted us to pick up the pace. Over dinner the first night, facilitators reflected together and thought about balancing picking up the pace and the need to slow down, to go deeper. By the end of the second day, we “had them,” and by the third , it was “over the top.”
We learned a lot, and so did they. We asked them to rate us on a ten-point scale, and over half gave us “10 out of 10.” The overall average was 9.1 Participants gave us rave reviews, whether we were an exceptionally experienced team or not. Trust the Process!! We learned that what we have to offer is extremely useful to new schools getting started and wanting to create a culture of community, respect and care.
At this point, we are preparing to offer monthly workshops on Saturdays for staff from the school to attend, volunteers only. The vision is that a facilitating team will be developed, and that in time, students will become co-facilitators. But, what AVP has to offer most immediately is preparing the adults with AVP: the staff, the administrators, the parents, the neighbors. The children will then be immersed in a culture of community where the “risky business” of learning and growing may be accomplished.