SPARK Empathy

SPARK: Students Promoting Attitudes of Respect & Kindness club fosters empathy & acceptance on campus by hosting a Culture Festival.

Photo of Stephanie Sapakie
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SPARK Empathy

Overview

Gather a group of students (we call our group SPARK: Students Promoting Attitudes of Respect and Kindness) to organize a Culture Festival that celebrates the uniqueness of your student body.  Students will be empowered through sharing aspects of their culture and will gain insight into aspects of other cultures.  This will support a campus climate of appreciation, understanding and respect.

How To

Write a list of steps for how to implement your solution.

Contact Community Organizations (I went to a community Culture Festival in Phoenix and talked to people at each booth to get contacts for our first event, our second event was all campus groups). Many of the organizations offered to send representatives to our event or partnered with our SPARK club for activities throughout the year.

Contact club sponsors 4-6 weeks in advance to get them excited about sharing/informing or performing at the event.  I went to faculty meetings and a club carnival to recruit sponsors and club officers to participate. 

Use a google form to keep clubs informed about the event and give you information about their group’s commitment.  For example our Culture Fest featured:

henna tattoos by art club,

a Dia de los Muertos altar constructed by Spanish Club

karaoke and various musical instruments from English classes

poetry reading from the poetry club 

a photo booth by photo club (who also documents our event)

several international samplings from culinary club

a kindness pledge from Best Buddies

DJ and impromptu Hip Hop dance demo from student council

interactive cultural displays from Japan Club and Sign Language Club

adopt an elephant in Kenya from Go Green Club

career opportunities in the tech world from Coding Club

Social justice trivia from Gay and Straight Alliance Club

Have a way for individuals to participate by sharing aspects of their culture or inviting family and friends to present on campus that day. Write an announcement, post flyers, and use social media/emails to let the student body know how they can participate.  Again, use a google form to keep information organized.  Here are some of the contributions from individuals and group displays from students not affiliated with a campus club:

ballet folklorico and Tahitian dancing

Arabic Handwriting

student Demos and Displays from Irish, Kenyan, Polynesian and Egyptian cultures

Other ideas might include athletes demonstrating yoga or unique sports played in the community, meals made by moms from around the world, art, literature, storytelling, etc.

Contact Building supervisor and reserve indoor or outdoor space as needed, also arrange for tables and chairs to be set up on the day of your event.  (We held our event in a campus courtyard one year and in the main hallway the year it rained).

Advertise in print, video announcements, flyers, and social media to let the student body get excited about the event.

Have students and parents help in each step of the process.

Ask for sponsors in the local community to donate or pay for food items, give aways or fund performing groups that charge fees (ie a Navajo Hoop Dancer).

Invite Food Trucks if your school allows

Time Required

How much time does your idea take?

Six weeks lead time to organize, this ensures enough time to secure community partnerships and sponsors and reserve space for the event on campus.

Our club met once a week for an hour to organize.   We delegated communications and recruitment to club members.

Most communications were digital and took just a few hours a week to respond to.

Day of Event:

One hour prior set-up. 

One-Two hour Festival

One hour clean up

If you conduct a survey of students’ reactions and insights to the Culture Fest follow up within the week

Materials Required

What are a list of materials needed to implement your solution?

Google forms or some other way to track and organize information so you know who is committed to the event

Tables, chairs, outlets if you are amplifying music

Portable floors or stages for performances (we just had students circle around the performers on the sidewalk)

Signs, announcements, and social media to advertise

Signs for each booth the day of the event so students know what is being presented.

Each exhibitor was responsible for their own display and materials (ie Spanish Club constructed a Dia de los Muertos altar and art club brought Henna ink for Henna tattoos).

Have sponsors bring food, prizes or giveaways.

Evidence

What should an educator look for to know this idea was a success?

Next year we will administer a survey both before and after the event to measure if stereotypes, bullying and isolation are reported less often because on a school wide survey students reported less incidence of bullying after we held two Culture Festivals on campus.

Students crossed cliches on the day of the event (the goal of Mix It Up Day).

Students will feel less isolated and alone as they may find there are others who share their heritage, religion, orientation, or interests. (again a survey could measure this both before and after the event)

Positive feedback from students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents and the community.

Community recognition (our Culture Fest was featured in the AEA magazine and on the Teaching Tolerance website).

Validation 

Briefly described how you prototyped your idea and what sort of feedback you received from students.

Our first Culture Fest was held November 4, 2015.   Students enjoyed learning from one another.  They had fun sharing food, activities, dances, etc. 

 

Club sponsors contacted us in the second year and got even more ambitious about exhibits.  This is how we knew we had been successful. 

Our second Culture Fest was held October 25, 2016 in conjunction with Mix It Up Day (Southern Poverty Law’s day to break out of your clic a day students are urged to sit with a new group of students at lunch in order to gain an understanding to promote peace and acceptance.).

The Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, AL chose Highland as one of only three schools in the nation to film Mix-It-Up day.  They captured festivities and interviewed students to highlight the event on their website promoting tolerance education.  Culture Fest featured art, music, food, dancing, karaoke, henna tattoos, and more from various campus groups and individuals such as Spanish club, art club, photo club, culinary club, Best Buddies, poetry club, folkloric dance group, student council, Japan club, sign language club, go green club, coding club, and the gay and straight alliance group.  Arabic handwriting, as well as student demos from Irish, Egyptian, Kenyan cultures and an impromptu hip hop dance demo were also highlights.  Attendants said they had an amazing time eating, dancing, and singing to the music; they also enjoyed meeting new kids at lunch.

On our campus we started Students Promoting Attitudes of Respect and Kindness (SPARK) club two years ago because minoritiy students were feeling misunderstood and underrepresented at school events.  SPARK club came to life because the students realized there was a need for understanding and universal respect in our global community.  SPARK meetings are a safe zone for students regardless of their religion, race, cultural background, sexual preference or identity.  They feature gatherings to share personal experiences, gain support and exchange ideas to unify students and the community. SPARK students create educational opportunities and draw monthly guest speakers to enlighten attendants. Guests have been The Islamic Speaker’s Bureau, ASU Buddhists for peace Club, ASU Institute for Civil Dialogue, Black Lives Matter, and AZ Humanities PBS screening of Don't Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie) about undocumented students in the US.  This year’s series was kicked off on International Peace Day with The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.  These events have been popular, and one student remarked, “Attending the seminar did me good...they had an open conversation on racial equality that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.”   Broad communication is practiced by members as they use social media to promote statewide cultural events to followers and their families.

    Last year’s highlight was Culture Fest and this year, SPARK raised the bar paring Culture Fest with Mix-It-Up Day on October 25th, a day students are urged to sit with a new group of students at lunch in order to gain an understanding to promote peace and acceptance. The Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, AL chose Highland as one of only three schools in the nation to film Mix-It-Up Day.  They captured festivities and interviewed students to highlight the event on their website promoting tolerance education.  Culture Fest featured art, music, food, dancing, karaoke, henna tattoos, and more from various campus groups and individuals such as Spanish club, art club, photo club, culinary club, Best Buddies, poetry club, folkloric dance group, student council, Japan club, sign language club, Go Green club, coding club, and the gay and straight alliance group. Arabic handwriting, as well as student demos from Irish, Egyptian, Kenyan cultures and an impromptu hip hop dance demo were also highlights.  Attendants said they had an amazing time eating, dancing, and singing to the music; they also enjoyed meeting new kids at lunch.  

   As SPARK works to grow its message, acts of bullying are being reduced as an open mindset is promoted.  We encourage open conversation and feature events that reassure civil discourse.  Our goal is to make all students feel welcome and safe on campus.   SPARK members are wearing safety pins to show they are “safe to talk to allies” of the students who have suffered verbal harassment on campus.  This symbol of reassurance offers support in uncertain times.  Due to an increased demand for tolerance training and empathy enhancement, I  submitted a proposal to teach SPARK as a class, so students can receive more guidance and support in order to promote attitudes of respect and kindness to all.  

Currently SPARK is working with a local artist to make a campus wide art installation that will be  interactive and include contributions from all students on campus.  The goal of this work is to identify the current feelings and attitudes on campus and building empathy and understanding to address towards one each other.  If you are interested in starting a SPARK like club on your campus please email me for more information: stephanie.sapakie@gilbertschools.net


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