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Roseburg's Joseph Lane Students Participate in The Edge Emotional Literacy Workshop

The News Review Today, March 5, 2015

The students stood facing each other, 15 feet apart on the Joseph Lane Middle School gym floor, but the distance between them seemed farther.

What separated those students was homelessness, abuse, gangs, bullying, learning disabilities. For some of these students, it was the first time they were forced to truly see this divide.

Thursday and today, the 200 seventh-graders at Jo Lane participated in This is the Edge, a three-hour workshop aimed at addressing emotional issues that face students, in the hopes of creating empathy and preventing bullying.

“Everybody talks about, and rightly so, the academic standards and the testing, but with the shape of the economy, the way our country is, these kids just have social and emotional pressures that I didn’t have to deal with in high school and middle school,” The Edge Executive Director Wayne Kelly said. “They bring this to school with them.”

This week is the first time The Edge visited a Douglas County school. The nonprofit is an Ashland-based company that has provided this workshop at nearly 20 schools in Southern Oregon and Northern California for free since 2009.

The workshop began with same-gender, small-group discussions, during which students answered questions such as “What is something you’re most proud of?” “What would you like people to understand about you?” and “Is there a problem at school with drugs?”

“My group seemed very supportive of each other,” The Edge volunteer Elizabeth Colbert said. “They listened. They’d respond, ‘That happened to me, too,’ or ‘I don’t like that either.’”

The second hour was filled with a silent exercise called “Crossing the Line” that showed students the challenges their peers confront. Students lined up on a red stripe that crossed the gym floor. The Edge founder, Grant Williams, read a series of questions. If students answered yes to a question, they walked about 15 feet to a blue line opposite themselves and turned to face their peers.

“From this moment on, there will be no judgment in this room,” Williams said.

The questions started with race and religion but quickly became more emotional.

“Cross the line if you come from a home of abuse, of hitting, of yelling, anything that makes you feel unsafe,” Williams said.

About half of the students crossed the line and turned to face their peers.

The questions asked students if they had ever been abandoned, lost a family member, been homeless or knew someone who had contemplated suicide or harmed themselves. Teachers walked around with boxes of tissues as many students started crying and hugging each other.

When Williams asked if anyone had ever been bullied, only about 10 people didn’t cross the line.

“This is a serious problem in our schools today,” Williams said. “I have to believe that with the power of empathy, this will go away.”

The students were then tasked with turning the mood around by crossing the line if they had made positive changes: standing up to a bully, helping raise a sibling or taking on small jobs to help their family pay the rent.

The last hour was put in the hands of the students. Volunteers passed a microphone around so students could address their peers or say what they thought of the workshop.

“I liked everything about today,” one student said. “You learned new things about people that you didn’t know before.”

Some students apologized to other students in the room for bullying them. Volunteers motioned for the students to hug-it-out, which the students did. Another student apologized to two teachers in the room, George Graham and Principal Bill Bartlett. “I’m sorry to all the teachers who I pushed away who tried to help me with my problems,” he said. Both Graham and Bartlett walked over and hugged the student.

You can reach reporter Kate Stringer of The News Review Today at 541/957-4208.
“That was a golden moment,” Williams whispered.

“This might actually change something,” one student said. “And I’m proud of that.”

Bartlett then encouraged the seventh-graders to use what they had learned to be role models next year as eighth-graders.

“You demonstrated bravery and trust,” Bartlett said. “I want to challenge you all to make this day a part of every day.”

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