December 27, 2002

Southwest High’s Human Relations Conference Promotes Safe, Respectful Climate

Students educate each other about diversity, tolerance and teen pregnancy issues

A teenage girl learns she’s been accepted into a prestigious college on the same day she finds out she is pregnant. She tells her mother, who breaks down crying—in equal parts slapstick and seriousness. The students watching this skit recently at Southwest High break up in laughter.

Peer Education: Southwest High students take part in a skit to kick off the school's 8th Annual Human Relations Conference. The four-day conference promotes a safe, nonviolent and respectful school climate.

The performance was part of the school’s 8th Annual Human Relations Conference. The four-day conference concluded Friday, Dec. 20., and promoted a safe, nonviolent and respectful school climate. A series of student-produced skits—with a healthy dose of realism—kicked off the conference at separate lower and upper grade assemblies.

“These are real issues we deal with every day,” said senior Latoya Jones. “We all know somebody who has been in those situations. Many people don’t know how to deal with it.”

Latoya and classmate Johana Gandara ended the assemblies with stirring English and Spanish renditions of “Hero” by Mariah Carey.

Conference founder and organizer Lisa Frangente, a school counselor, said the event used to involve outside presenters. Students who are actively involved in every phase now present the conference.

“We all know you learn best and most from your peers,” she said. “What better way to teach the conference themes of respect, diversity and unity. I think the audience was really focused on what was happening.”

The conference also included student-facilitated workshops. Additionally, as part of a “Dead Day” activity, about 50 students silently walked the campus wearing black veils and T-shirts that listed their “cause of death”—ignorance, hatred or violence. As school let out at the end of the day, the students lined up in front of the campus in a dramatic display.

Selected students also participated in the “MINITOWN Challenge.” MINITOWNERS speak frankly about similarities and differences based on race, gender, sexual orientation and cliques.

Principal John DeVore noted that diversity is one of Southwest High’s greatest strengths. He encouraged students to not just acknowledge differences, but embrace and celebrate them.

“It’s really about respecting everybody,” DeVore said.

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