Monroe-Woodbury High School exchanges books for character education during M-W CARES Day

Monroe-Woodbury High School exchanges books for character education during M-W CARES Day

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By Nancy Kriz

— After more than a year’s worth of planning, Monroe-Woodbury High School’s M-W CARES Day took place seamlessly, with consistently rave reviews from students, faculty and parents who felt the day offered something greater than a day of people coming to the school to talk to students.

It offered hope for the future.

More than 100 speakers came from different parts of the region, state and nation to present assemblies and workshops focusing on personal stories of overcoming obstacles and achieving success in the first character education program of its type in New York State.

Organizers hoped the event would change the lives of all who attended. Time will tell, but by all accounts, a tremendously huge start was made in that direction.

Difficult and sometime uncomfortable materialSubject matter wasn’t “Pollyannaish;” rather it was difficult and sometimes uncomfortable material.

Former gang members and genocide survivors spoke. Other speakers were family members who lost children or others they loved due to suicide, substance abuse, drunk or distracted driving mass shootings and other tragedies.

Students heard about gender-based violence, bullying and suicide prevention, sexual abuse, exploitation, substance abuse, anger management, conflict resolution, genocide survival and dealing with disabilities.

Stories of loss, stories of rebuildingThey heard stories dealing with loss and grief, mental illness, goal setting, school violence as well as violence of all types, the impact of texting and social media on friendships and intimate relationships, and bias and racism awareness in addition to building self-esteem and motivation and rebuilding one’s life.

It was real life - the type of life that seems to be in the forefront of media coverage now, more than ever.

It’s the type of life that these students will be entering into on a much more intense basis when they leave the confines of the high school’s campus.

But they also heard about the importance of kindness, caring, compassion, acceptance and respect. They heard speakers reinforce that people have many more things in common to unite them versus divide them.

Cynicism thawsPostings on social media platforms, toward the end of the evening on Oct. 26, heaped praise on the day.

Parental postings noted their children came home chatting more about their experiences of day than the previous weeks of school combined. Energized and enlightened were among some of the descriptive words used to describe their children’s reactions. Skeptical and cynical thinking seemed to begin to thaw, they felt.

Postings from teachers included thoughts such as the way they would instruct students would be forever changed; to it was the best professional day of their lives; to when can planning start for the next event?

The day was so well-received that organizers are already working on an M-W CARES Day for fall 2020.

The Photo News asked five students for their take on M-W CARES Day. Read their assessments on page 14.

Student voices tell the story of M-W CARES Day

The Photo News asked five students to respond to questions about M-W CARES day:
• Christian Hess is the student representative to the Board of Education and represents the 12th grade/Class of 2019
• Phoebe Farrow is Student Council president and represents the 12th grade/Class of 2019
• Camron Adams represents the 11th grade/Class of 2020
• Alyssa Kamara represents the 10th grade/Class of 2021
• Jaelyn Staiano represents the 9th grade/Class of 2022
In alphabetical order, here are their responses:
Why do you feel character education is important to students of your generation?
Adams: Character education is especially important to students of our generation because of the demands of today’s society. It teaches students to better develop their own character, and to cope with the challenges of everyday life.
Farrow: Character education is important to students, especially in this generation. Presenter Carl Antisell shared that one in four students will suffer from a mental illness. To me, that statistic is reason enough to encourage character education here at Monroe-Woodbury. I strongly believe that you never know what other people carry around with them and that is why it is so important to be kind to everyone. Teens in my generation have perfect digital lives. We all post the highlights, pretending that we don’t struggle with anything, but the reality is quite the opposite. Being a good a person and developing compassion will ensure strong character.
Hess: Character education is important to students of my generation because students and families should be compelled to understand the basic principles of character education such as respect for others, responsibility for self and others and citizenship.
Kamara: Character education and guidance is important for a generation growing up in such a hectic time, who are constantly bombarded with the questionable morals and standards set by social media. It’s necessary to have real people with good intentions guide our generation’s ideals.
Staiano: Character education is important to students because character is the moral qualities a person can use to their benefit and benefit to others. Being educated on making the right decisions and being a good person to others is needed for everyone but especially young people with a full life ahead of them. As we grow up and start becoming more knowledgeable and forming our own opinions we need to know how to treat others with respect, but valuing our thoughts at the same time. Our future matters, so what we say and do can impact others in good and bad ways. The thoughts we act on are important so we must know how to make the right decisions for ourselves so that we can offer help others if they need it.
What do you feel the impact of M-W CARES Day is on you personally and why?
Adams: M-W CARES was an amazing experience. I had never experienced anything like that before and all the speakers were so powerful it really changed my take on life in certain ways. From stories of domestic abuse to barely surviving an almost fatal accident due to drunk driving, each of these speaker’s stories genuinely changed my life in their own way.
Farrow: M-W CARES Day gave me an insight into the deepest struggles of complete strangers. By hearing the stories of drug/alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, parents of suicide victims, etc. I feel as though all people have struggles. Some of these struggles may be physical, mental or emotional but regardless of the category, all people go through challenges in life. From an outside perspective, you may think the person who lost their child “has it worse.” But in reality, the person who struggles with anxiety and isolates themselves as a result of this is struggling just as much, just in a different way. These differences make it impossible to claim that one person has it worse. We are all forced to deal with whatever hurdles life throws at us. What differentiates this is how we choose to handle our challenges and how we choose to treat people regardless of theirs. M-W CARES opened the door for my friends, acquaintances, and myself to talk about the personal stories we heard and how they impacted us. I feel like the stigma around mental health and personal challenges has been lifted. We are all united through our struggles.
Hess: I am hoping the day had a positive influence on the student body and that every student got something out of it. I also hope the students understand that nobody has to fight alone and that there is always someone to talk to in any situation.
Kamara: Never had I ever thought that I would shake hands with a known and once violent ex-neo Nazi, look him in the eye, and have a kind exchange. Nor had I ever would I have thought that I would have met Miss USA. I think that M-W CARES Day gave me and my fellow students the ability to meet amazing people with such interesting and impactful stories. I certainly know my passion for certain socio-political issues was reignited through meeting them, hearing their stories, and attending their presentations, and so was my want to make immediate change regarding these issues.
Staiano: M-W CARES Day showed me in a new perspective. I’ve always appreciated everything in my life but after hearing about so much loss and struggle from the speakers I’ve learned to never take anything or anyone for granted. I’ve also recognized that everyone should treat the people around them with kindness and compassion because you may never know someone else’s story. M-W CARES Day has also taught me the power of resilience. The presenters had many strong messages and all had one thing in common: Recovery. We all have had different problems in our life at one point or another but the important part is coming back from it. Today I’ve heard stories from so many strong people that inspired me to keep going if things get tough and to help others because they might need the encouragement as well. With the knowledge I’ve absorbed from today I hope to go out into the world to make good decisions and to be the best person I can be.
What are you hoping the day’s impact will have on the larger student body and why?
Adams: I hope that the day made students realize that they’re not alone. Many of these speakers have gone through some very rough, difficult times during their life, and they overcame those obstacles to end up where they are today. I want these students to realize that whenever you face these tough times during your lifetime, it is only temporary, and will get better.
Farrow: I am hoping that when students walk into the building on Monday, Oct. 29, they are compassionate. I hope that as a student body, we see more kids standing together in opposition of bullies. I think that as a high school teenager it can be hard to lift your gaze and realize you’re not alone in your fight, whatever it may be. Also, it can be hard to realize that you’re not the only kid with problems. Hopefully our students will walk in next week with the mind set of treating everyone with kindness, I know that I will.
Hess: I thought M-W CARES Day was a major eye-opener to me as many emotions were present throughout the day. There were many aspects to the day that made it very special to me. Every speaker touched me in some type of way and made me feel that I will never walk alone.
Kamara: I hope that M-W Cares Day will help create a more open environment for students to speak their minds about their emotions, current social issues, and views on history and politics (as most of the presentations were about) in a more mindful and educated way. Additionally, I hope that the day will usher a new mind set of desire to be a more passionate, caring, and involved person, even at our age. It’s hard not to want to do something after learning about all the issues that we did and I certainly hope most students feel the same sort of urgency for improvement.
Staiano: I’m hoping that the day has shown students that they’re not alone and that together we can accomplish great things. I believe that as a whole school we’re obviously going to have our differences but at the same time we’ll have a sense of unification and gratitude towards one another. Hopefully after this we can take the extra time do good things and to look out for one another. If we feel good about ourselves maybe we can bring someone else up with us and make them feel good too. Everyone deserves to feel worth it and maybe after today, day by day, we can accomplish that as a school.
What your Top 5 takeaways about the day’s significance?
Adams: My Top 5 takeaways from the day are that drinking and driving could put you in a life-altering or even life ending circumstance. I learned that if you are in an abusive relationship, it could end up hurting not only your physical health, but you mental health as well if you don’t leave the relationship. Also, I learned that sex-trafficking is the third largest international crime industry, and makes about $32 billion each year. Another takeaway I took from the day is to cherish every moment you have with your parents, because before you know it you could lose them and regret neglecting the time you spent with them. Last, but not least, I learned that your voice is more powerful than you think, and to be confident with yourself and comfortable in your own skin.
Farrow: Heightened awareness; new sense of community; students will establish stronger connections with one another instead of being their superficial-social-media-selves; a new sense of strength, hope and unity in the building; and the beginning of ongoing discussions.
Hess: A sense of unity throughout the school; although some may experience different situations, nobody walks alone; speakers spoke with power and had everyone’s undivided attention; many different members throughout the community were present which created a sense of support; and although many students have their differences, most of us were impacted in the same way in each workshop.
Kamara: It certainly was a significant day for Monroe-Woodbury High School and it’s a shame that those who skipped school on that day didn’t experience it. The main takeaways from the day were that our vast and diverse student population all share similar issues (as learned in the discussion prompted by keynote speaker Tara O’Connor) and opinions despite our differences, and that nothing good can come from judging and condemning others as I was reminded by Sammy Perez and Robbie Robinson of Prison Fellowship. Our judicial system has serious issues that younger generations cannot turn a blind eye to for any longer. Additionally I came to the realization talking to Arno, a once violent white supremacist turned charitable Buddhist, that retribution is achievable for anyone. Lastly, the day brought to my attention that our generation is soon to be responsible for fixing the issues that we learned about, but with the legitimate passion and care, I unexpectedly discovered in my fellow students about them I certainly have little fear.
Staiano: There were many things that made the day significant. I think that on this day our school felt a sense of togetherness. After today I think students will work together better after knowing that we all go through different things and you never know someone’s story. I also think that students will be more compassionate toward others after acknowledging that our words and actions can hurt others. Students may also make better decisions after learning from the experience of someone who has dealt with traumas and loss due to poor choices of a loved one. The last thing I think that made the day significant was the amount of sincere respect I saw between students, speakers, and faculty. The students really listened to what the speakers say and they were engaged as well. They seemed to understand the messages trying to be made. If they applied the same amount of respect to the people in our community I think our school could improve greatly.

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