By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – A group of Hudson High School (HHS) ninth- through 12th-graders of elective classes including conflict resolution, ethics and sociology welcomed guests March 7 from Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA), an alternative public charter high school in Roxbury. They all participated together in a cultural exchange known as Breaking Stereotypes and Building Connections. This past fall, the HHS students visited their BDEA counterparts at the school near Dudley Square.
The long-running program continued this school year with funding from a grant presented by the Hudson Cultural Council.
The cultural exchange was co-founded in 2002 by Brian Daniels, then a HHS social studies teacher and now principal of 1Lt. Charles W. Whitcomb Middle School in Marlborough. Daniels had previously taught in Boston with the exchange co-founder Connie Borab, now a BDEA humanities teacher. The idea to develop an exchange was explained by HHS social studies teacher Caitlyn Murphy, who has been involved in the program in some capacity since 2003 and coordinated it for the past seven years.
“When Brian came to teach in Hudson, he was struck by the incredible difference in the cultures between the two groups of students and their lack of understanding of each other,” Murphy noted. “At the time, Connie was teaching at New Mission High School [in Hyde Park], so they created this opportunity for their students to come together. When Connie moved to BDEA, the program moved with her. The exchange has occurred in some form every year since its inception.”
Joining Murphy and Borab as facilitators for the full day of activities and discussions were Todd Wallingford, HHS secondary humanities director, and Cheuper Freeman, BDEA community field coordinator. While activities were scheduled throughout the day, the facilitators noted that the agenda has become less structured over the years as students contribute more input.
The morning began with HHS and BDEA students partnering to establish a “buddy for the day.” For the first activity, called Step to the Line, the town and city students lined opposite sides of a large classroom. Students were requested to step forward if they felt answers to questions described them. They were asked varied questions ranging from simple to more personal and intense, Wallingford noted.
“Some questions get at socioeconomic and psychological issues,” he explained. “They lay a foundation for getting kids comfortable at what levels of risk they want to take. We tell them that they don’t have to step forward if they’d rather not. They’re challenged by the kind of choices that they make here. Most of the kids are remarkably honest.”
Later, group discussions explored students’ thoughts about several statements including “Suburban life is easier than urban life.” Wallingford observed that opinions from HHS and BDEA students were evenly mixed.
“Those who disagreed with the statement said that no matter who you are, you have your own level of personal challenges; where we live doesn’t necessarily define the degree of struggles we go through,” he relayed. “On the other side, some kids said the statement is true, adding that, generally speaking, people in urban areas face more challenging external factors, which can be highly stressful.”
Discussions following this and other activities frequently included a similar comment made by both HHS and BDEA students.
“We heard kids say that there are a lot more similarities between them than they thought there would be,” Wallingford noted. “It’s really remarkable how quickly kids bond. They hadn’t seen each other for a few months and they’re suddenly buddies again. There’s a thirst for friendship – that’s what makes doing this exchange fun.”