From Gregg Kaufman - A Forum with High School Students in Florida

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  • High school students in a forum

by Gregg Kaufman

For 16 years, the Baptist Health/Wolfson Children’s Hospital Tipping the Scale Adolescent Mentoring Program has worked with Duval County Florida youth to ensure a promising and productive future. Adult mentors commit to relating to students on a weekly basis for the balance of their high school education. The program which has a 100% high school graduation rate provides leadership training, emotional support, counseling, academic support and skill development for the young people. Over 90% of students proceed to university education.

Several Baptist Health staff participated in a Jacksonville forum Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence? They subsequently arranged for a series of Tipping the Scale events to introduce the deliberative dialogue process. The first of four scheduled events took place in December 2017 as over 20 young people divided into three forum groups deliberated Youth and Violence: Reducing the Threat. Moderated by two university students and another trained moderator, the students actively engaged in discussing the accountability, prevention, and changing our violent culture options.

When comparing the common ground among the three groups several areas of agreement emerged. First, promoting “positivity” – one student’s term - through quality education, community support programs, limiting violent video game and television show exposure, and early intervention through preschools asserted that youth value opportunities to be enriched beyond the school day. Second, the young people said that parents and youth should be held accountable for wrongdoing and violence with punishments being levied according to the severity of the incident. And third, the participants called for improved police training and rigorous hiring requirements that would hopefully result in quality community policing.

This was the first deliberative dialogue forum for the students and when asked to respond to the process, the young people responded: “The discussion was not aggressive.” “We could agree to disagree.” “Everyone contributed their ideas and emphasized others’ opinions.” “I felt safe to be open with my thoughts.” And when asked to name other issues the students said they would be interested in deliberating, drug use including the opioid epidemic, sexual harassment, and race relations. 

Future Tipping the Scale events included conducting forums with mentors in January, mixed forum groups of students and mentors in February and moderator training in March.