Written by Molly Pistrang (REACH’s Youth Education Specialist) with Nicole Jacobs Marques, Joe Zeitouny, Carmen Serrato, Anna Kraffmiller, Lila Campbell, Xavier Quintanilla
Our Youth Education work primarily takes place in schools. On March 12, the unexpected last day of school for the year in Waltham, I was at Waltham High School. That morning, I co-facilitated a training on trauma for an anatomy and physiology class alongside Mariel, a sophomore PAVE Peer Leader (Peers Against Violence Educators). And it was PAVE Day! During all three lunches PAVE had a table in the cafeteria and did activities with students and teachers. We talked about what makes relationships healthy and unhealthy. We wrote notes to people we care about, which we were planning to hang on our newly updated bulletin board. The plan was to close out a busy day with an open meeting analyzing how we consume media. We were to analyze one of my favorite current songs, “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, and close with a discussion of the Netflix show, “Sex Education.”
Throughout the day, we received different messages about what was going on. I was emailing back and forth with a biology teacher whose classes we were scheduled to teach in the next week. Mid-day, I found out that as an outside service provider, I wouldn’t be allowed back in the school starting that Monday. That’s ok, I thought, the Peer Leaders were prepared to teach the classes on their own. Pretty soon we heard news that after school activities were cancelled, so the open PAVE meeting was off. I waited in the school library until the end of the day so a few Peer Leaders could stop by and check in before the next time we’d see each other again.
Over the next few days, we found out that school wouldn’t be coming back for a couple of weeks. You know what happened next – the return date kept getting pushed back and back until now, we’re waiting for news on whether we’ll start again in the fall.
When schools closed in mid-March, we wondered how we could continue the work of educating and empowering youth. I thought first of the Peer Leaders. I wanted them to know that even though the school year is disrupted and even though we cannot meet in person, our club – and the community we have created together – is not disrupted. We had a club meeting the first week after schools closed and have continued to have our meetings every week at our regular meeting time. 2:00 PM on Thursdays.
PAVE is a space where we still meet and talk weekly about “PAVE topics.” It’s a space where we can share our feelings about the current situation and support each other. We are choosing to connect with one another in as many ways as we can. We quickly opened our officer meetings to the whole club and developed an online portal where we can reach out and share resources, self-care tips, meeting agendas, and lesson outlines. We are having one on one Zoom meetings to replicate our formal (and informal) check-ins. We’ve just started co-teaching virtual workshops for a high school. We’re trying to make it feel normal. But we know that everything is different, too.
As a club that centers on all things “relationship” we’ve been reflecting on what relationships and connections look like in this digital realm. Some of the teens have described how communicating online can be natural if you’re used to talking over FaceTime or Snap Chat. Yet it can be harder to concentrate on meetings when we’re not in person, whether it’s because a younger sibling or pet comes into the room, technology problems, or that it’s our fifth Zoom of the day. It’s an equity problem, too. Who has internet access? Who has the time to spend one or two hours at club meetings each week? What relationships are able to flourish? Which ones cannot be maintained because of systemic inequities? (These are the types of things we talk about at PAVE meetings).
The Peer Leaders have also noticed how digital connection has seemingly intensified positive relationships, and that some folks are making an extra effort to stay connected. Carmen reflected on how “you connect to the people who truly care about you. People who you wouldn’t think message you to check in, and some you thought would, don’t” (all while understanding the collective trauma we’re going through and acknowledging that we have different capacities to reach out to others). It’s giving them time to do things like connect with family in other countries or, as Xavier said, “reach out and tell people I miss them… something I maybe wouldn’t normally do.”
It’s vulnerable for us and vulnerable for others. We see the human side of people. We’re spending time with people’s families (partners, children, and pets). We see inside each other’s lives and rooms through Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Zoom calls, but have trouble picking up tone or body language. Relationships feel far but close as we connect in new and creative ways.
The Peer Leaders have noticed that overall, this is bringing us more together as a club. Joe described how “before, we all had lots of things outside of school (musical, sports, etc.). This is bringing us back together as a whole.” We get to see club members who we might not have been able to see, and more people are coming to both the Tuesday and Thursday meetings.
What this time has been showing us is that above all else, PAVE is and has been a meaningful space to connect. It’s a social space where everyone gets to talk and feels comfortable and free to speak. It’s a space for processing thoughts and opinions. Right now while we’re in our separate homes, PAVE is still a safe environment – a brave space of friendship and trust. We know we can talk freely to people if we’re having trouble and that PAVE is there to support.
In such an uncertain time, this continuity of support and communication helped create that safe space. Lila noticed that “PAVE was one of the first clubs that started after we left school. In the first two weeks, it was pretty much the only people [I was] talking with. It was something to look forward to. [It was] nice to have familiar faces for the first two uncertain weeks that were the hardest.”
Anna described how “when school was in session, [PAVE] was a space where we could go and not think about homework, college, or other stressors. It still is that space, more than ever. [When I’m at PAVE,] I don’t have to think about those things. I talk about things I care about with people I care about.”
As club officer Xavier said, those people we care about, the PAVE club members we see once or twice a week via Zoom and Google Meet, are “family.” Although we are connecting in different ways, we are fostering, relying on, and building these relationships. Like family, PAVE has been there and will continue to be there, whether we are sitting around a table or sharing a screen.
If you want to learn more about talking with teens in your life, register for our next webinar that will take place on Wednesday, May 27 from 9:30- 10:30 A.M. Titled “How to talk with Teens about Relationships,” this training is designed for parents, educators, clergy, and community members who interact with teens. This one-hour workshop will explore adult and teen perceptions of teen dating violence, discuss messages and barriers that uniquely impact youth relationships, and provide strategies to address these barriers when talking with teens.
Registration is required and can be completed here.