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Howard-Bostic brings leadership, social justice training to Berkeley County schools

ISSUED: 19 October 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Some students in Berkeley County schools are receiving special training in leadership and social justice through a program started by a Shepherd University professor. Dr. Chiquita Howard-Bostic, associate professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Geography, is conducting a series of Help Bridge (HB) Empowerment Project workshops at Spring Mills High School and Martinsburg High School.

Howard-Bostic created the HB Empowerment Project to offer training in multiculturalism, self-exploration, healthy communication, and leadership.

“I want to help people to become healthier communicators in ways that they respect and embrace differences in unique ways,” Howard-Bostic said.

A group of students at each high school is taking part in a series of four workshops that cover the topics of multiculturalism and cultural integration, self-exploration and reflection, communication and culture, and leadership and social justice. The workshops are designed to teach the students how to accept diversity, interact with those who are different from themselves, communicate clearly, build trust, and explore social issues.

Howard-Bostic said the workshops aim to teach students how to build trust, think critically, and explore social issues through hands-on learning activities and college-level sociology lectures. Howard-Bostic works to help students take a close look at their own personalities and learn how to debate respectfully about critical issues impacting the community. There are also lessons about the history of discrimination in the United States where they gain a better understanding of misrepresentations and misinterpretations of diverse groups.

Howard-Bostic has been working with Dr. Veronique Walker, associate superintendent of equity and inclusion for Berkeley County Schools, and Michelle Barnes-Russell, Berkeley County School Board member, to bring the project to the county.

“We have many multicultural families in Berkeley County and when students graduate from our schools, as educators we want to prepare them to be productive citizens in the state of West Virginia and wherever else they decide to go,” Barnes-Russell said. “Being able to handle diversity and cultural differences means they can go anywhere and be strong in who they are.”

Walker said students requested a program like the HB Empowerment Project, and it will compliment the country’s Olweus Bully Prevention Program.

“The most import aspect of having the program is that it gives students an opportunity to delve deeper into cultural differences and to learn how those differences impact relationships, both positively and negatively, based upon how they are handled,” Walker said. “I hope the HB Empowerment Project will help develop student leaders willing to lead their peers, in conjunction with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, in increasing safe and welcoming environments.”

Howard-Bostic fine-tuned the HB Empowerment Project by offering a two-day pilot program in June to 20 students from most Berkeley County high schools.

“The feedback was simply outstanding,” Howard-Bostic said. “The students said so many wonderful things about their experience and what they took from the different workshops.”

One of the students who participated in the pilot was Zora Omega Muhammad, a 9th grader at Martinsburg High.

“The Help Bridge Pilot Project taught me how to approach things in school,” Muhammad said. “It was a great way to help teens better themselves. It was a great experience. Dr. Howard-Bostic taught us everything and made it fun to learn.”

Howard-Bostic also plans to mentor students who complete the HB Empowerment Project and one of her goals is to eventually offer the workshops in all four Berkeley County high schools. Howard-Bostic said future HB programs will integrate a career development component to encourage high school students to attend college.

Listen to the interview HERE.

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