People-to-People: A lesson in diversity

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 27, 2003

After spending the day together, high school students from across the county said they realized how much they have in common despite their differences in age, race, sex or background.

The Workforce Development Resource Center's Youth Opportunity Program offered the first annual People-to-People Conference at Ohio University Southern to allow about 100 high school students to talk with their peers about tolerance, race, biases and other issues that affect their lives.

"It has been great," Robert Pleasant, coordinator of the Youth Opportunity Program, said. "What I am getting from the kids is that it has been a great opportunity. They are learning a lot about themselves and others."

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Students from Chesapeake, Dawson-Bryant, South Point, Rock Hill, Ironton, St. Joseph and Collins Career Center participated in discussions, games, exercises that illustrated how we are all essentially the same, Pleasant said.

"It has been a good learning experience," Josh McFann, a Rock Hill senior, said. "We learned that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I would come back next year."

Joe O'Leary, a sophomore at St. Joseph, said he enjoyed the eye-opening activities.

"The most rewarding part is meeting new people from different schools," he said. "We enjoyed talking and opening up to people."

Travis Darby, a senior at Rock Hill, entertained the group during lunch by playing an original composition on the piano.

"I am not that good with words, so this is how I express myself," he said. "It is surprising to see how much we are alike even though we have never been around each other. We share a lot of the same opinions."

Kara Riffe, an Ashland Community College student, was a facilitator for the small-group discussions.

She has spent seven years as a participant or facilitator in the Kentucky program.

"People-to-People gives students a chance to get together and talk about things they may not be comfortable talking about in a classroom," she said. "Students seem to open up more as the activities go on. Each time is a different experience and I think people will be fulfilled when they leave here."

Pleasant said that for the first year, the program has been a great success and is a good foundation for the future.

"My goal is to get students who participated to return to be facilitators," he said. "I want them to come back and train students in the area of diversity."

People-to-People is sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice, the Workforce Development Resource Center's Youth Opportunity Program and OUS.