Democratic Dialogue Project

E.O. Smith High School Democratic Dialog Project
in collaboration with
The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center

“The goal behind deliberation is not merely to draw a crowd and fill a room with opinionated people. The purpose is much bigger and more powerful. When citizens deliberate about an issue and when a community asks citizens to make choices, the directions that are chosen are better. They have a legitimacy that simply doesn’t exist otherwise.

Citizens take ownership of problems. They talk about what they can do, not what others ought to do. They act out of a sense of mission and passion. Communities in a democracy are healthier when citizens are doing the work of citizens.”

- Framing Issues for Public Deliberation, Kettering Foundation 2002

What is the Democratic Dialog Project?

E.O. Smith’s Democratic Dialogue Project and the Thomas J. Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut work together to create a yearly public deliberation forum at the high school.

Called the Democratic Dialog Project, this initiative brings the entire E.O. Smith High School community together. The Project brings multiple points of view to the table. Participants listen, discuss, make decisions and take action to address issues or problems facing our school and community. In this process, we aim to expand the knowledge of the public on issues and improve democratic attitudes and skills.

It also helps faculty, students and families improve their interpersonal skills to effectively resolve problems without resorting to unproductive behaviors.

How Does It Work?

Each year during the winter-spring semester, E.O. Smith students select a topic that will be discussed in that year’s Democratic Dialog forum. They receive training by staff at the Dodd Center to help them serve as moderators during the forum. The student moderators remain impartial about the topic of discussion, promote the involvement of each participant, help participants find common ground and encourage deeper reflection.

During the forum’s discussions, members of the greater E.O. Smith High School community – parents, teachers, board members, community residents – are asked to work within groups to identify and develop solutions to the issue or problem.

What is this year’s topic/problem statement?

E.O. Smith students chose Mental Health and Wellness as the 2018 issue to be discussed. Why?

The 21st century has brought societal change and pressure to teenagers on a scale unlike any time before. High school students across the country face increasing challenges to their mental stability related to changes in technology and social media, rising college costs, uncertain political and economic climate, school shootings and societal violence, changing family and community structures, and conflicting pressures on the development of personal identity. As a result, students are facing negative outcomes such as conflicts with others, poor performance in school, anti-social behavior, harming themselves/others and substance use. These outcomes are related to teenagers feeling heightened levels of stress, isolation, depression and anxiety, which have resulted in an increasing need for mental health training and resources. Educators and parents report feeling similar pressures and are themselves grappling with a lack of understanding and resources to address these concerns for themselves and their students.

How are Dialog participants approaching issues of Mental Health and Wellness?

During the Dialog Project’s June 5, 2018 session, students, teachers, parents and community members gathered – in groups then as a whole – to discuss ways to support the mental health and well being of students in the E.O. Smith community.

Strategies for supporting individual resilience, creating a nurturing community, and getting help to those in crisis were discussed. Counselors will also be on hand during the larger community discourse to support individuals as they express their opinion on this highly emotional topic.

The Thomas J. Dodd Center at UConn and E.O. Smith High School expect that the 2018 Dialog on mental health will forge new ideas, programs and tangible actions that can be put in place at the school and in the community to address the mental health challenges our younger generations face.

Watch this video about mental health discussions taking place now in E.O. Smith High School’s Democratic Dialog Project.

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