On September 25, I had the privilege of accompanying Inclusive Dubuque and the City of Dubuque Human Rights staff as a facilitator for the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (SPIRIT) event held by Cedar Rapids Washington High School (CRW).
Earlier in the year, a student fight had received a great deal of community publicity and led to several student suspensions. The incident left both CRW students and staff feeling frustrated and searching for ways to build a more positive and supportive school.
The SPIRIT training, developed by the DOJ in 1964, was the perfect match. With an energetic school principal, over 60 students volunteering their time, and two days of free meals, the adventure began. The first day was remarkable: in no time at all, the youth of Cedar Rapids passionately expressed their thoughts on the strengths of their great school, ranging from its personable principal to its ability to pack the student section at every home sporting event.
The conversation gradually turned deeper, shifting the focus to a student-led list of issues ranging from racial reconciliation to relationship building. Small group sessions allowed all students to share feelings, break barriers and engage in serious, impactful conversations.
On day two, the workload was heavy but the students dove right in. With a new sense of connectedness, they worked together to create a comprehensive plan that addressed changes to school culture, climate and the academic support system.
The SPIRT process was a great success and something I am glad I got to experience. I hope to hear great results from CRW and to bring lessons back to Dubuque.