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Middle schoolers tackle diversity issues

"They have to be neutral in the dialogue. They can't take sides," said Carrie Boron, deputy communication director for Everyday Democracy in West Hartford, Conn. "Some people are better suited to be participants than they are to be facilitators."

Boron said being a facilitator can be demanding.

"It takes a lot of discipline to keep the discussion going and to be able paraphrase back to people what they said without inserting their own opinion and helping people to feel welcome," said Boron.

For middle school programs, the Study Circle uses a modified curriculum, which was developed by a committee of SCED members and middle school staff from participating schools. They also get some of their materials from Everyday Democracy, an organization based out of West Hartford, Conn., that started the concept of study circles. Everyday Democracy works with more than 550 communities throughout the country.

"Our organization provides programs like Schenectady County's with resources to organize these kinds of dialogues to discuss any issue that has mass appeal in a community " we give them the tools to engage all kinds of people in the process," said Boron.

Those participating in study circles often have to prepare for the discussions. Since the Oct. 23 and 30 study circle's topic is about racism, students are asked to find out about their family's history and whether they've had to face any adversity or not. This will be the first topic of discussion for the students.

"We get them in touch with their cultural backgrounds," said Wright.

Following the discussion, the group will devise a plan to bring awareness about racism back to school.

"We think that taking part in discussions in programs like this is just as important as voting," said Boron. "There are 364 other days in the year that people can take part in democracy, and we really see people getting involved in their communities and seeing through change on a certain issue."

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