An immersive program between two schools in different regions, the field exchange focuses on relationship building through the story exchange and student-directed civic engagement.
In the 1992-2019 Great Smoky Mountains Study (2020), a team of developmental psychologists led by William Copeland assessed “despair” up to 11 times among 1,420 Southeastern, white, Black, and American Indian rural and urban youth at 9, 11, and 13 years of age through 30 years of age. Their “despair scale” was based on the following seven indicators: feeling hopeless, having low self-esteem, feeling unloved, loneliness, helplessness, feeling sorry for oneself, worrying frequently.
The study demonstrated the link between despair and patterns of substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and behavior. Studies like these help shift the focus from private narratives of shame to public conversation and solutions. We acknowledge an epidemic of despair. When we look at statistics, we can feel overwhelmed at the scale of the problem -- and large-scale solutions are in fact necessary -- but at the same time organizations like N4 can target solutions that begin one relationship at a time.
The Role of N4
Common narratives about Appalachia and the Bronx contribute to the negative esteem of young people, making them feel that they must leave to prove their worthiness. Both communities face the challenge of being under resourced and higher than average statistics of drug addiction. Kentucky youth suicide rates have increased 32% over the past ten years.
In this field exchange, students tell the story of their place and identity in ways that challenge typical narratives, create positive community around the shared experience of being known, and identify civic engagement projects that can benefit both communities. Students have learned to see the unique experiences their communities offer – the rural beauty of Kentucky, the exciting bustle of the Bronx, strong extended families, the music and food associated with their place – and to recognize those things as valuable to others.
“Narrative 4 is not here to change your mind. N4 tells us, ‘You can hold on to the integrity of your beliefs and understand somebody else’s at the same time.'” Mary Slone, teacher, Langley, Kentucky
University Heights High School in The Bronx, New York, and Floyd Central High School in Langley, Kentucky, may not seem to have much in common, but for the past six years and counting, these visionary young people have joined forces to break down barriers, build community, and transform empathy into action. Some of their work has included an “Empathy Eats” cookbook and an Instagram feed on teen mental health.
2016 Launch story exchange; “Empathy Eats” project.
2017 Bronx students visit Langley, KY.
2018 Kentucky students visit The Bronx. Launch Instagram teen mental health feed.
2019 Poetry workshop with Open Doors Reality Poets.
2022 Langley, KY-Bronx, NY Field Exchange continues with new students...