October 9, 2014 by JEANETTE WOLFBERG
Hudson student workshop helps students cope with real tragedy
HUDSON–“Will I change your situation? No. Will I give you different eyeglasses in which to see your situation? Yes! We want you to be the driver of your car, not the passenger,” Michael Arterberry told the participants, mostly 9th graders, in the Power of Peace workshop he conducted September 30.
It was one of several such two-day workshops he has been leading at Hudson High School this fall. His goal, he said, was for the participants to “connect” with both each other and their own “inner person.” One of his hopes is that, as one goes through life, “You act” rather than let “your emotions” act.
According to Mr. Arterberry, the workshop’s material was constructed so that it could accommodate the real-world death of a Hudson student, announced in the middle of the first day.
Power of Peace workshops are a program of the Youth Voices Center (YVC), which Mr. Arterberry, a social worker, founded and where he now serves as executive director. Mr. Arterberry has been running the workshops for eight years, and last year Hudson High joined the list of schools hosting them. This year, according to Mr. Arterberry, Hudson Principal Antonio Abitabile wants every freshman and every teacher to go through a Power of Peace workshop.
“I love Hudson,” said Mr. Arterberry. “I love the students of Hudson. I love the energy.” The workshops have two levels: Level 1 (compulsory at Hudson High), and Level 2 (with Level 1 a prerequisite). Level 2 is voluntary, but Mr. Arterberry said that all students who go through Level 1 want to take Level 2. So far there are not enough Level 2 sessions scheduled to accommodate all applicants.
About 30 people took the September 30–October 1 Level 1 session, mostly freshmen plus two teachers, some sophomores who had gone through both levels the previous year and qualified to help facilitate the sessions, and an assistant of Mr. Arterberry’s.
The participants sat in a circle in the front of the auditorium. Mr. Arterberry started the session by showing pictures of the boarded up house with neither insulation nor heat where he lived as a child and the contemporary house where he lives today. The let’s-introduce-ourselves first exercise consisted of playing a song followed by each participant saying what he or she had heard. Further exercises included switching seats and temporarily changing chair configurations, all the while telling something personal to at least one other participant. The exercises were designed, Mr. Arterberry said, to “put certain things in places where they are unable to hide.” At the end of the second session on October 1 many students manifested their enthusiasm by constantly interrupting Mr. Arterberry to take his picture.
Right after the workshop ended, its two teacher participants said they had learned more about the students with them. Joe Mazzone, who teaches special education, said he saw what the kids were going through.
Shannon Factor, who teaches global history, said, “I know that their stories are circulating in the building already.” She said that many problems arose from situations outside of school, adding that she was glad there was somewhere students could “connect together and learn they aren’t alone.”
Both teachers said the issues faced by students today were the same that they and their peers experienced when they were teenagers. The difference, both teachers said, is social media.
Ms. Factor said social media add to pressures between peers. “Now there’s less chance to escape.”
Mr. Arterberry had addressed social media toward the beginning of the workshop. “The quality of communication between teenagers has declined,” he said. With “computer-driven communication, you can’t see the face” of the people you talk to. “You don’t know what the other person is going through.”
As the workshop ended, two sophomore facilitators, when asked how the Power of Peace workshops they had taken last year had affected their lives, started with how it improved their communication. “I’m able to speak more to people,” said Crystal Kittrell. “I talk with my Mom more now.”
As for her goals, she said, “I want to graduate from high school, go to college and become a nurse.”
Jalisa Couvertier said that before taking the workshop last year, “I would keep everything in.” Now, in addition to being “more open” and talking with more people, “I smile more,” she said.
“Everything’s gotten better,” Jalisa added. “I’m there for [people] more, and they’re there for me now.” The workshops “didn’t change my goals. They made them stronger,” she said.
Ms. Factor said that since her students began taking Power of Peace workshops, they have “stopped snapping at each other for minor things.” Before, they used to say hostile things like, “Why are you looking at me like that?” Now, Ms. Factor said, “Some things don’t happen that used to happen.”
To help the workshops’ positive influence last, many schools have Power of Peace Clubs led by teachers who volunteer and, for this purpose, report to Mr. Arterberry. These clubs, Mr. Arterberry said, provide a “safe place where students came come to and talk.”
Mr. Arterberry said that some youths who participated in the Power of Peace groups now work for him while attending college. He said they say that “their lives have been changed.” So far YVC has focused on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But Mr. Arterberry would like to expand both in schools and with groups. “Adults need it too,” he said.