Michael Carter leading collaborative workshop at Calhoun School. Breakout group’s illustration for their presentation on sexism.

We interviewed program director Michael Carter about our new educational component: collaborative community workshops. These workshops were initially designed to help Encampers practice building community after the summer program and address uncomfortable topics in their home schools or communities as a basis for change. What became apparent quickly is that there was a greater need, including in schools or organizations that had not yet sent Encampers.

These collaborative workshops use arts, community building and a critical thinking approach to inspire action in schools and community organizations. They address issues in a particular community, with youth agency being a common theme. The young people identify problem(s) and are encouraged to dig deeper to understand underlying causes. Using the arts and other modalities, they can develop immediate actions to respond to the issue(s) in either an individual or collective way. Every workshop asks: How can you be an agent of change right now?

These workshops reached more than 400 young people in 2017. More workshops are scheduled for 2018. Early feedback has been positive and we look forward to giving many more young people and their adult allies a modified experience of the Encampment (which often leads to young people applying for the summer program).

Michael, do you have an overall goal in all the workshops, no matter what the content?

Yes: for the young people to see themselves as a community and as active members of that community who are capable of effecting change in an EFC way. Then, each workshop is tailored to the specific needs of those young people. They are questioning their understanding of the world. They don’t always understand that they have the answers until they go through this process.

How did you create the format?

The workshops came out of our summer program experiences and conversations with Jane [Sapp, our education director]. We were looking for creative ways to articulate ideas. We didn’t want a lecture — the young people must do the work of inquiring and creating. I have found through the summer program that when you ask young people to articulate their thoughts using a creative medium, it forces them to be more critical in their thinking and discourages rhetoric. They think deeply about an issue and how they can convey their message in the most effective, sometimes heart-wrenching, way without embarrassing themselves.

Have you seen any shifts in thinking so far?

Yes — on a basic level, engaging in the EFC approach shows young people that they can have conversations about uncomfortable issues — and can therefore address those issues at school or elsewhere. This seems like a simple idea, but for some youth, they had not previously considered that they could effect change about their concerns. This experience is inspiring and motivating.

“It helped me see that the problems with identity and change are not just at my school.”

 “We were able to discuss topics that we normally don’t discuss as a group. Gave me great ideas and solutions for problems at school.”

Why would a school or community-based organization want to host one of these workshops?

The benefit of having a workshop of this nature is that it empowers young people to think of themselves as a collective and to lead as a collective. This leads to investigating the ways that they can improve where they are. Any institution would agree that there is always room for growth. Young people have concerns and perspectives that are often not thought of by adults but affect them. Since the school/organization is there to support them, it’s important that their concerns be heard. It’s often easier for a third party to elicit honest responses, so this is a service that EFC can provide. This opens the way for young people to articulate their concerns and imagine how to create solutions for those issues along with their adult allies.

“Michael Carter is an ideal workshop presenter for young people. He knows his material inside and out, but doesn’t lecture or condescend. He elicits from participants their own knowledge and experience, providing them with opportunities to speak up and share their opinions. His exercises are designed to create new connections that can develop into long-lasting relationships. Kudos!” — Anne Klaeysen, Leader, New York Society for Ethical Culture

“The Encampment for Citizenship: It is an inspiration for those involved in progressive ideals and helps the younger generation understand the challenges they too will need to face so the world can always have hope for the future.” — Mirta, Upper School Spanish teacher, Calhoun School

 “I’ve never seen our students so fully engaged in conversations about social justice and human rights. The workshop leader was able to bring out responses and participation in the students that might not have happened in a regular classroom setting with their own teachers. This was an experience that the students will not forget.” — Debbie, Community Service Director, Calhoun School