Students in the Bronx are learning about empathy, communication and kindness through a story-sharing program with a school in Kentucky.
For the second consecutive year, University Heights High School, 701 St. Ann’s Avenue, has had an ongoing exchange with students at Floyd Central High School in Floyd County, KY. In the fall, the teens from Kentucky visited the Bronx and in March, the Bronxites will go down south. This is part of a program called Narrative 4, which is in in four continents, 12 countries and 18 states.
Narrative 4 educates people on how to use their stories to build empathy, shatter stereotypes, helps develop active listening skills, engage in peer-to-peer learning, practice public speaking skills, improve self-reflection and self-awareness and experience an overall increase in positive emotions.
Lillian de Jesus, Narrative 4 master practitioner and director of secondary planning and collaborative programs, told the Bronx Times, the children have benefitted from participating and many have been clamoring to do it next year.
“The whole mission is about empowering students,” de Jesus said. “You take a moment to listen to someone and we exchange it (a story) and embody it as our own. That will result in breaking down the barriers we have with one another.”
The students meet with de Jesus and guidance counselor and Narrative 4 Ambassador Tameka Nelson every Monday at 7:30 a.m. before school and once a month in the portal, which is essentially a large Facetime, where they interact with the kids from Kentucky. The portal is large tent with a screen and server that connects them to the teens.
In fact, the program has become so popular that they will be introducing it to other borough schools in the future and will eventually be partnering with a school in Mexico.
De Jesus explained that the kids are taught how to tell stories and communicate.
“When you’re asking people to exchange stories you have to have protocols in place to make it safe,” she said. “It’s much harder to be kind than to be mean. It takes work to be kind.”
Recently, the students from the Bronx and Kentucky gave each other recipes for Thanksgiving and were tasked to make each other’s receipe for the holiday.
They noted how it was a bit difficult for some of the kids in Kentucky to find certain items that those of Dominican or Nigerian heritage in the Bronx cook with. The students reflected on the program and told the Bronx Times how much it has taught them about themselves and other people.
“Personally the program has helped me grow so much,” said one girl named Pamela. “It was like meeting people from a different world, but at the same time we’re all human. Meeting them for the first time it was like family.”
Her classmate Adesuwa said Narrative 4 has educated her about empathy and helped her mature.
“Before I joined this program I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “I just knew we exchanged stories. In my mind I didn’t really have any stories.”