By Angel Tran – “There’s no story that’s unimportant,” senior Elizabeth Yost says. “And there’s no idea that doesn’t have potential to grow into something really excellent.”
This statement perfectly sums up the philosophy behind a week-long project that Yost spearheaded to bring two populations of LHS students together: International Baccalaureate students and English Language Learners. The result of that idea?
Fork in the Road.
“We got students involved from both programs, and it developed into storytelling and idea-sharing,” Yost explains. From there it expanded even more into a panel discussion on international conflict affecting life in Lincoln, guest speakers, a night of student storytelling, a short film festival, and “a lot of oth
er smaller just conversations between people that were focused on stories and moments that affect all of us,” Yost added.
The goal of the project, says Fork in the Road sponsor and English Department Chair Chris Maly, was to raise awareness and empathy.
“To be aware of the experiences families and students go through, and to empathize with what those elements are,” Maly said. “For example, there might be Syrian refugees coming to Lincoln in the next few months. So if we can empathize, before they even arrive, with what a challenge that will be for them and be ready for that, I think that’s a worthy goal.”
Yost explained, “The thing I would add to that is listening – really building the skills of students and teachers and community members how to listen to the stories and experiences of other people – and then turning those into changes in our community and changes in ourselves to be a more welcoming and unified place.”
Maly is always asked by community members how often students at Lincoln High actually interact. The truth is, he says, we don’t have time to interact. “And so from a teaching perspective, it was taking a moment to lend voices but also to get students to interact and work together.”
Yost is reluctant to take too much credit for the project. “I don’t know that it’s really my project or that I came up with it,” Yost says. “I think I said, ‘here’s a place where you can make a difference,’ and people came to that place and worked from there.”
She was amazed at the number of students showing up to meetings and asking what they could do how could they help. “Every single person who has been involved has affected what FITR looks like now to some degree, and some have completely changed where we thought we’d be six months ago.”
Yost sees the impact that the project has already had. It has already made a difference.
“Getting to see parents be proud of their students for telling stories, or making short films, and getting to hear from students, ‘I’m so glad I told that story. I’m glad I took the risk to get on stage’ – and getting to see people be happier and prouder and more comfortable being themselves is the impact that I didn’t really ever know that I wanted to see, but i think it was always there. It was always what we were building towards.”
As for the name of the project, it came out of the idea that in education, and throughout our days, we tend to go down the same paths we always go down, Maly says. We become creatures of habit.
“And so the idea of Fork in the Road is to take a different path and communicate and experience things that you wouldn’t normally experience,” he says. It’s that risk-taking and willingness to venture to a different place, “to shed what we’re used to doing, saying, and thinking, and as Elizabeth said, open our ears and eyes and experience something different and see where that path takes us next.”
So what does the future look like for this project?
“Since I’m graduating,” Yost explains, “I’m really excited to get to watch new student leaders change it in ways that are going to be more effective for future classes and work better for the skills of those teams. Since it was this general idea in the beginning, getting to see how other people take that idea and turn it into events and conversations will be really cool to get to watch,” Yost says.
“We’d like to make it an annual event,” Maly adds. “And so right now we’re in the stages of finishing out this year but also team-building for the upcoming years and working with underclassmen and women in leadership roles to kind of put their own imprint on what they think could be valuable.”
If you want to get involved, contact Yost of Maly. There’s no application process. “We take all students who want to be involved,” Maly says.