'Labeling' Youth Forum held at Ellington High School

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Fri., Mar. 18, 2011
Ellington students (l to r) Ben Freidman, Margo Bailey and Rachel Tshonas describe their school to the crowd. Photos by Steve Smith.
Ellington students (l to r) Ben Freidman, Margo Bailey and Rachel Tshonas describe their school to the crowd. Photos by Steve Smith.

More than 120 students from 14 high schools convened at Ellington High School on March 15 for the monthly meeting of the Connecticut Youth Forum. It was the first time Ellington had hosted the monthly (during the school year) meeting.

The forum is an offshoot of the Connecticut Forum, and primarily serves as a means for students to openly voice their opinions (adults are not permitted to speak at the meetings, except for the moderators and occasional special guest speakers), and connect with one another in an atmosphere or respect and acceptance.

“Kids often think they are on the outskirts, and that no one understands,” Youth Forum Associate and moderator Danielle Joseph said. “This is a place where it doesn't matter what school you are from, or how you think, and people understand you.”

“It's like a comfort zone,” said Lisi, a student from Bacon Academy. “You open up in a way you never thought you could.”

That philosophy fit perfectly with this meeting's topic: stereotypes, names and labels.

As students entered the cafeteria, they were asked to create name tags that displayed labels they'd been called.

Students were asked whether they considered themselves “popular” or “unpopular.”

Sharifa, a student from Bacon Academy, said a popular student is one who stands out.

“You're always smiling,” she said. “You're always laughing. I call myself popular because it doesn't matter what day it is, [I'm] always talking to somebody. You're a role model for other people, and accept their differences—their sexuality, what religion they are – you talk to them.”

Lauren, an East Granby student, said she is unpopular.

“I'm not the first person that people go to,” she said. “I'm not the first person people think of when they say, 'let's hang out.' I'm pushed off for later when the first, second and third friends say, 'I'm busy.'”

The group also discussed the differences between urban, suburban, and rural schools.

Mayra, a student from Pathways to Technology High School in Windsor, said a stereotype of urban students is that they are defined as “ghetto,” “loud,” or “[a] hood.”

Jorge, from Hartford Job Corps said that caucasians are the minority.

“Most people think that people in our school start fights, get kicked out of school, and go back to not doing anything with our lives,” he said, “which is completely not true. It's the opposite.”

“People think that in urban schools, you get a bad education, but that isn't true,” said Jamar, another Pathways student.

Sophomores Margo Bailey, Rachel Tshonas, and Ben Freidman were among those students representing Ellington. They said their school's demographics give them a different perspective on stereotype issues.

Freidman said his school is more of a community than some other schools, because of the relatively small size of Ellington.

“I'll hear about schools of about 5,000 students,” he said. “People talk about meeting new people at your school. I can't relate to that, because I already know everyone at my school, because it's so small.”

“It's not the sort of [place] where you see someone in the hall, and judge them,” said Bailey, “because you already know them on a more personal level.”

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