Promoting a Culture of Belonging Through Student Leadership

Make Friends…Make a Difference

Connections is a high school program aimed at building supportive, safe, and thriving communities. It fosters belonging and inclusivity, ensuring every student feels valued. The program breaks down social barriers by bringing together students from diverse backgrounds. It has two parts: learning and doing. First, students learn about belonging, leadership, teamwork, and antiracism through interactive workshops. Then, they plan and execute inclusive activities for their peers.

Students are central to the solution, leveraging their insights to meet peer needs. Given authority, they tailor initiatives to their school’s unique needs. This model thrives despite budget cuts, staff shortages, and administrative turnover.

Why Belonging Matters

A sense of belonging is fundamental to improving academic performance, ensuring school safety, and achieving equity. An inclusive environment enhances educational outcomes and significantly reduces bullying and isolation. This is especially crucial for students of color, who often have the least resources and face additional social barriers. To truly fix belonging, the entire school culture must change. Targeting individuals or specific groups alone will not work. Each person’s sense of belonging is interconnected with others’. When the whole school embraces inclusivity, it fosters mutual respect and understanding, provides equal opportunities and support, and creates a positive community for all students.

Summer University

From July 1 to August 9, 2024, at Garfield High School, the Connections Workshop will be one of the tracks offered to ULMS Summer University participants. The Summer University runs from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday. The Connections track will operate from 9:00 AM to noon, Monday through Thursday, and participate in field trips with students in other tracks on Fridays. Doors open at 8:30 AM for breakfast. Students will receive lunch, service credits, and practical skills valuable for jobs and college applications. A $600 stipend is available to students who meet attendance criteria.

Student Action Projects

Student teams brainstorm and develop ideas for inclusive activities. Past Connections activities have included an indigenous walking tour, a justice journey by bike, a climbing wall, and an interactive theater art program. Once Workshop participants, known as “Connectors”, propose their activities or action projects, Connections provides support, guidance, and up to $1,500 in funding to bring their plans to life. Connectors then recruit “Connectees”—students who join these activities and are inspired to become the next generation of Connectors, continuing the cycle of community building and engagement.

How To Apply

The program is open to all rising 10th and 11th graders from Garfield and Roosevelt High Schools. Interested students are encouraged to apply for the Summer University program via the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle’s Summer University page.

For more details or questions, students can reach out to Amber Inwood at [email protected].

Partnership With Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS)

Connections is a collaboration between RARE and ULMS, encompassing all aspects of the program, including planning, hiring, management, budgeting, marketing, and fundraising. Both organizations are deeply committed to promoting racial equity and a culture of belonging, which is integral to the program’s success.

By integrating Connections into the Summer University, ULMS and RARE are taking significant steps toward promoting a culture of belonging and equity within Seattle schools, ensuring that every student feels valued and empowered to make a difference.


“As you walk through the halls of Garfield, you witness the rich diversity that is our strength. The Connections program is an important initiative for leveraging this diversity, facilitating meaningful interactions among students from various backgrounds. This program is an essential step towards bridging any divides and cultivating a vibrant school culture where every student is actively involved with the diverse tapestry of our community.”Principal Tarance Hart, Garfield High School, Seattle

“RARE’s Connections program will provide excellent opportunities for students of different backgrounds and cultures to share meaningful and fun extracurricular experiences, and to deepen their understanding of racial issues.  Shared experiences of this kind can create life-long learning and friendships.”Principal Tami Brewer, Roosevelt High School, Seattle

Additional Reading

Seeking Community Partners

RARE arranges and funds activities with community partners who are experts in their fields and already have experience running youth programs. We are open to all ideas and suggestions. Some activities might involve a few hours on a weekend. Others might be several evenings over a period of a month or two. Some activities could be a week away outside the city.

If you are involved with — or know of — an organization that has a youth program that could provide a Connections activity, please complete the form below. We will get back to you to discuss how to best proceed.


Why did you start the Connections program?

The segregation of Seattle public schools has hardly changed over the past 50 years. This ongoing and seemingly intractable situation leads to fear, misunderstanding, and discrimination in all facets of life. It detracts from the quality of our children’s education and leaves them underprepared for college and careers. We believe that one part of the solution is to encourage young people from different races and ethnicities to participate together in fun and interesting activities, where interaction is encouraged, and lifelong friendships might be started.

Are students involved in planning the Connections program?

Absolutely yes. For starters, we received great suggestions and ideas from some of the NAACP Youth Council Seattle-King County members about the foundation and design of Connections. We also talked to RHS students about their interest in experiencing programming which enhances diversity, racial equity, and inclusion for high school students. We are continuing to obtain feedback from students who are participating in the program.

What has Connections accomplished so far?

RARE and ULMS have collaborated on three Connections pilots in the past two years. The majority of responses from the students was overwhelmingly positive. Connections is using the feedback and input from the pilot program to continue to evaluate and design future Connections programming for engagement in the schools.

2021 Connections committee forms at RARE.
2022 RARE and ULMS partner for a two-week summer pilot program to determine student needs and test the first Connections Workshop curriculum and Activities concept. Activities: (1) Theo Chocolate Factory; and (2) Bike Works Justice Journey of the Chinatown/International District.
Spring 2023 First Connections Workshops in schools takes place over five weeks at Garfield and Roosevelt High Schools. Activities: (1) Rock climbing at Mountaineers; and (2) UW indigenous tour/hike.
Summer 2023 Connections partners with Seattle Parks & Recreation’s Workforce Development Youth program for a five-week Workshop. Activities: Interactive Theater Art program.

How will you engage partners for the activities?

Countless interesting activities that can potentially be adapted to fit the program. We have made productive partnerships with youth-oriented organizations, and will continue to reach out to more programs in Seattle and King County, including other non-profits, school districts, PTAs, student groups and business groups. We are also using word of mouth, networks of well-connected Seattle school alumni, and articles in the local press. Do you know of a youth program or organization we should be talking to? Please contact us here.

What are you hearing from the larger community?

Nearly everyone we talk to is positive about the idea of Connections. They see it as a simple but actionable concept that begins to address the question of “what can we do” about problems of racial inequity and the challenges of moving toward antiracism. The Connections’ pilot programs supported the idea that thoughtful curriculum and activities can recognize and develop students’ interest in increasing racial equity in their schools and personal lives, assist the cultivation of partnership and friendship across difference, and promote leadership skills and attainable goals. We hope that what we are learning through our efforts can support and enhance a movement that expands throughout Seattle and beyond.

What evidence do you have that the Connections program will make a difference?

RARE itself is an example of what we’re talking about. It was started by alumni who had formed connections through sports teams 50 years earlier. Those connections were long dormant, but still strong enough to provide a foundation for an organization that has already had significant accomplishments and has in turn led to many more connections. We believe that what we have learned from the summer pilot program supports these new and exciting pathways.

What do parents think about Connections?

Parents have talked to us about their hopes for the opportunities Connections offers students. Several of our Connections volunteers are parents whose kids are in or have gone through the Seattle public schools. We’ve also heard from a number of parents who would like to see Connections developed as an natural way for their children to explore racial equity through friendship with like-minded students.

Will students get service hours for participating in the Connections program?

The school principals of both Roosevelt and Garfield have approved granting service hours to students who successfully complete the Connections program. They will get 60 hours by participating in the Connections track of the ULMS Summer University program. The number of service hours for participating in the Fall and Spring tracks is still being worked out.

What certification do the students receive from participating in the Connections program?

All students who successfully complete the Connections program will be awarded a certificate of completion in both printed and electronic form. We envision that the certification will be helpful to students’ college and job applications.