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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF Joy Janicke (from left), Sara Orr, both Thaden School sophomores, Monica Diodati and Hoa Nguyen take part in a discussion Thursday during a community dialogue between Bentonville residents moderated by Thaden School sophomores at the Bentonville Public Library.

BENTONVILLE -- Longtime residents and recent arrivals came together to chat about the city's past, present and future this week in an event organized entirely by teens.

"Meet Your Neighbor" at the public library was the work of the Thaden School's sophomore class. The students' goal was to encourage community members to share their thoughts and concerns about their hometown.

Thaden School

The Thaden School is a private, independent school in downtown Bentonville that opened in fall 2017. It has 110 students in grades seven through 10 this school year. Enrollment is expected to grow as the school adds grade levels; it eventually will offer grades six through 12.

Source: Staff Report

About 50 people attended, not including Thaden students. Several City Council members took part. There was time to mingle before everyone gathered in six groups of about 10 people each.

Students facilitated the conversation in each group, posing questions such as "What do you appreciate most about your community?" and "Are there issues that affect some people more than others?"

After about an hour, each student facilitator summarized their group's discussion for the rest of the room.

Tammy Horton moved to Bentonville from Little Rock with her husband and children in 2016. Her daughter is a seventh-grader at Thaden. She was happy to get involved in an event promoting community dialogue.

"We need to know who lives next door. We need to know who's across the street," Horton said. "We are supposedly so connected with each other over social media, but people don't even know the names of their neighbors anymore."

Horton loves Bentonville and all of its amenities, she said.

"There's a general respect for each other and it's not so rushed and hurried to where you don't have time to just say 'hello' to somebody," she said.

On another side of the room was Christina Orr, who's lived in Bentonville for all of her 40 years. Her daughter is a sophomore at Thaden.

"I think it was a great event. I think the kids did a very good job of learning more about their community and discussing changes and how to make those changes," Orr said.

Conversations touched on many topics including infrastructure, traffic, health care and affordable housing.

Isabella Carvajal, 15, acted as a group facilitator. She was impressed by how open-minded people were.

"I feel like a lot of people here left this conversation inspired to make a change and really welcome their neighbors, and make an environment that really is supportive of each other," said Isabella, a Rogers resident.

Isabella said she'd like to see similar gatherings in the future and for people from other cities to get involved.

Hannah Bahn, a Thaden history teacher, said students spent about three months organizing Meet Your Neighbor. They did everything from booking the room at the library to making fliers to promote the event. One group rode their bicycles and went door to door distributing about 250 fliers, she said.

"We talked a lot this year about how do you engage in civil discourse ... how do you talk to people who may believe different things than you do," Bahn said.

Bahn got a professor from the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas to train the students on facilitation strategies, she said.

"It's a big project," she said. "To ask a 15-year-old to facilitate a conversation among adults, it's not a small undertaking."

Marcus Teoh, another Thaden student who served as a facilitator, said the experience was "nerve-wracking" at first, but as the conversation continued, he felt more at ease.

"It really pushed me to become a better public speaker," Teoh said. "In the past, I kept to myself. This experience has pushed me to become more outspoken."

Students also documented their project through film. They plan to make a video for future Thaden students who engage in similar projects as a sort of "how to" guide, Bahn said.

NW News on 04/20/2019

Print Headline: Thaden students organize community dialogue

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