On the heels of the 2016 Presidential Election, the titles in mainstream news outlets read "There Are Two Americas Now" in the Washington Post and "Election Exit Polls Reveal a Starkly Divided Nation" in the New York Times. President Obama addressed the palpable feeling of rift and disunity in his farewell speech by saying "for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; we rise or fall as one." Students in the Lake View High School Social Justice Club took these words to heart; and they took action.
Soon after the election, they created an outreach program called Facing the Divide. Recently, they embarked on the first endeavor. From Chicago, IL, a urban city in Cook County that voted primarily Democrat, they connected with Blanchardville, WI, a rural community in Lafayette County that voted primarily Republican. With the guidance of Brian Wittenwyler, sponsor of the Social Justice Club, they arranged a cultural exchange in which Lake View High School students and Pecatonica High School students would get to know each other's environment, learn about one another's lives, and listen to each other's viewpoints. Those two visits took place on April 27th and on May 16th. On their visit to Wisconsin, Lake View students toured a farm lead by the Future Farmers of America of Pecatonica High School and experienced life in a small village. Similarly, Pecatonica students visited Chicago, IL. Alderman Pawar and Go Fund Me donation sponsored an introduction to urban mass transit and a boat tour of the Chicago skyline. They got to know each other's environment, but most importantly, students engaged in discussion that identifies ways in which their experiences overlap and recognizes where and why they are different.
Wittenwyler explains the concept by saying, "It's difficult to hold untrue beliefs about people you actually know and have interacted with in a meaningful way. This is how we want to bridge that gap." A diverse group of twenty-three students from Lake View High School participated. The Social Justice Club thought it was important that individuals from varying backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender, experiences, and ability levels participate so that the students represented a cross section of Chicago, IL.
Facing the Divide is an extension of our Restorative Justice practices at Lake View High School. Restorative Justice is a shift in school discipline that incorporates learning about self and society, as opposed to strictly punitive measures. As a result, our faculty and our students have engaged in the use of talking circles and peer juries to restore and build relationships. "This has helped our school culture and climate a lot, says Assistant Principal over Social and Emotional Learning, Meghan Sovell".
The Social Justice Club views Facing the Divide as an opportunity to enhance and refine restorative practices inside Lake View's community. They are also optimistic about impact Facing the Divide will have across communities.