Reposted from the New York Times:
University Heights High School is on St. Anns Avenue in the South Bronx, which is part of the poorest congressional district in America, according to the Census Bureau. Six miles away is the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, with its arched stone entrance and celebrities’ children and $43,000-a-year tuition. Eight years ago, as part of a program called Classroom Connections, students from the schools began exchanging letters, which eventually led to a small group from University Heights visiting Fieldston for a day. “At the time in our school, these were tough street kids,” said Lisa Greenbaum, who has been teaching English literature at University Heights for 10 years. “They walked into Fieldston, and they were just overwhelmed. They couldn’t imagine that this was just minutes from where they lived, and they never even knew about it. One kid ran crying off campus. It made them so disheartened about their own circumstances.”
Over the next eight years, the two schools maintained their connection, groups of students meeting intermittently to talk about race relations, say, or gun violence, or to take a combined field trip to work on a community-garden project in Van Cortlandt Park. They most recently got together in early April to participate in an exercise in “radical empathy,” as it’s called by the group Narrative 4, which facilitates story exchanges between groups from all over the world.
Under the supervision of Narrative 4, the students paired off, one from each school, and shared stories that in some way defined them. When they gathered as a group a few hours later, each student was responsible for telling the other’s story, taking on the persona of his or her partner and telling the story in the first person (“shattering stereotypes by walking in each other’s shoes,” as one of the Narrative 4 facilitators put it).