Forming productive relationships with others is an important life skill. Building a diverse community where everyone is valued is even more important, especially if you are interacting with people who have different backgrounds and interests than you.
Introducing Connections, a program from Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity (RARE). Connections brings together Seattle high school students from different campuses using shared activities to create relationships with students who have had different life experiences.
Connections picks up where ethnic studies and diversity trainings end by putting those learnings into action by adding fun. Connections assembles groups of students to have fun together by engaging in various kinds of activities – anything from sports to the arts, to learning skills and hobbies. The goal is to help high school students graduate after learning an important life skill — the ability to form relationships with people who are different from themselves — that doesn’t come from books. Doing so serves the students for the rest of their lives. It helps them in higher education, work and volunteer activities.
The Connections program has been endorsed by Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones, RHS Principal Tami Brewer, Seattle School Board VP Brandon Hersey, and many staff, parents, and community members.
“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
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 evenings over a period of a month or two. Others might 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.
Has Connections Started?
In summer 2022, Connections launched a two-week pilot program co-developed by Connections volunteers and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle staff. 10 students of color, from such schools as Roosevelt, Garfield, Chief Sealth, and Franklin, experienced both a classroom-based exploration of racial equity concepts and curriculum, and collaborative group adventures. 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.
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.
Why do you use the word “movement” in the title of this page?
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’ summer pilot program supported the notion 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. This should work out to about 20 hours for participation in Connections Spring 2023. This assumes 9 hours for the six 101 sessions, and about 11 hours for the two 201 activities.
What certification do the students receive from participating in the Connections program?
All students who successfully complete the Connections program, including both the 101 and the 201 sessions, will be awarded a certificate of completion in both printed and electronic form. Similar to our scholarship award certificate, it will be signed by the co-chairs of RARE. We envision that the certification will be helpful to students’ college applications for several reasons:
- It demonstrates an interest and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which are important values for most colleges.
- It showcases competencies in DEI-related topics, such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and cultural awareness
- It increases students’ chances of admission by making them stand out from other applicants who may not have such credentials.
How will the Connections program enhance students’ understanding of DEI principles?
Some things cannot be learned from books. Participation in an extracurricular activity -— whether it is recreational, social, service, or something else -— with a diverse group of students will create a sense of acceptance, belonging, and understanding that seldom happens in the classroom. The Connections program begins by giving students a foundation in DEI through the 101 course. It then gives students an opportunity to put those new skills into practice through real-world 201 activities that encourage students to interact with one another. Our plan is to provide students with an ongoing series of 201 activities in order to continue building their DEI skills.
Are there any other programs similar to Connections in the U.S.?
We assume that there must be other similar programs, but we have not yet heard about them. In particular, Connections seems to be unique in the way that it offers students a foundational course in DEI called Connections 101 before they participate in the 201 activities.
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