Students use role play to explore controversial topic

  • Tue Feb 14th, 2012 6:53pm

<b>SCHOOLS | </b>By Katie Murdoch Herald writer

LYNNWOOD — The discussion about illegal immigration is more complex than some students thought.

But after doing some research and hearing different sides of the debate, students walked away more educated about the hot-button issue.

“I used to think it was black and white,” said Chris Wright, 13.

Students from Soundview School, a private school in Lynnwood, hosted a two-day peace and conflict workshop Feb. 2 and 3. Partnering with students from Billings Middle School in Seattle, students from both schools practiced conflict resolution using a controversial topic like illegal immigration as a springboard.

“The program puts particular emphasis on international-mindedness and applying that to our everyday lives,” said Inae Piercy, head of Soundview School.

The workshop was led by Carl Hobert, founder of the Axis of Hope Center for International Conflict Prevention in Boston. Axis of Hope is a nonprofit that focuses on helping young people grasp peaceful methods to resolve conflicts by using real-life examples. Its goal is to instill empathy and perspective.

“By the time you graduate from high school, I guarantee you’ll know somebody here as a result of illegal immigration,” Hobert told the students.

He asked them to raise their hands if they know of someone who lives in the United States illegally. About half of the students and teachers raised their hands. When Hobert asked if they should turn those people in, students had trouble answering.

“It’s important to learn how and why people think this way and how not to let it blow up,” he said. “You’ll be able to talk to your mom and dad and teachers and take a stand.”

Hobert used role-playing and hands-on experience to teach the students how to look at all sides of an issue and how to use body language and key words to succeed in negotiations. He reminded students to pay attention to the many sides of an issue and remember sides will offer biased perspectives.

“Don’t look at one source and accept it as the truth,” he said. “Balance your perception.”

Students were separated into teams and represented groups involved with the conflict including border patrol, the Mexican government, Mexican immigrants, unskilled-labor employers, taxpayers and border state representatives. During rounds of negotiations, students presented their arguments and fielded questions from opposing sides. Hobert instructed them to defend their side while questioning their opponents.

At the end of the workshop, the students penned a letter to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who hired illegal immigrants, to share their perspective on illegal immigration.

Amber Peppan, 14, had her mind made up about the issue before the workshop began. After hearing more sides to the argument, she’s encouraged to keep learning.

“It’s interesting and I want to learn more and have my voice heard in the group,” she said.