Eighth graders at Roosevelt Intermediate School in Westfield and Cedarbrook School in Plainfield will wrap up this year’s Plainfield/Westfield Exchange Program in a brand new way. This weekend, Westfield students will join their new friends at a dance hosted by the Plainfield School.
“This was the students’ idea,” explained Roosevelt Language Arts teacher Matt Kalafat, who is coordinator of the program. “The fact that they wanted to have a dance with each other shows an increased level of comfort and interaction with one another.”
The students from each school first became acquainted with one another when studying the novel Of Mice and Men for four weeks, which included two visits between schools to share ideas. Roosevelt also established an online wiki for students from both schools to communicate between meetings and discuss multiple analytical questions about the text.
“We made a lot of friends with them,” remarked Roosevelt 8th grader Grace Blake, “and talked with them online on social networking.” Classmate Julia Kuhn added, “It was awkward at first, then became friendly.”
On February 21, in small groups or speaking individually in the Roosevelt cafeteria, the 8th-graders expressed their opinions of the existence of the American Dream in the novel as well as in reality, the reaction to murder and death of some of the novel’s characters, and the minority experience in the 1930s and today.
In addition to examining the connections between the novel and the world, the students were asked to reflect on what they learned from each other and each community during the exchange program. Every table of students included a facilitator from either Westfield or Plainfield who helped encourage discussion or answer questions.
Following the discussion period, the Plainfield 8th graders remained for lunch and attended afternoon classes with their Westfield counterparts.
Marking the third consecutive year of the exchange program, Stewart Carey, Principal of Roosevelt Intermediate School, said, “This is the third year of the exchange program, which has grown each year in terms of opportunities for interaction. Kalafat and his Plainfield counterpart, Language Arts teacher Eleanor Hemphill, both believe in the value of exposing young people to demographics they otherwise do not get a chance to interact with.”
“If the goal of education is to prepare students for life after school, I cannot envision an experience that better achieves that goal – especially as the world grows more diverse,” said Kalafat.
He added: "Research shows students at this age learn much from interacting with fellow students. By setting up a context in which students from two different communities can communicate, our students were able to learn much more than they normally would have. Both communities were able to gain unique perspectives about these themes because of our dialogue."