04/20/11 — Teen tackles social issues at high school

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Teen tackles social issues at high school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 20, 2011 1:46 PM

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Sixteen-year-old Robert Boyette, in center, listens as students participate in an activity as part of "Wake Up, Southern Wayne," a daylong program the sophomore organized and led last week. Helped by Lynn Dail, an English teacher at the school, Boyette brought together 130 students to discuss social issues and take the message back to the student body.

DUDLEY -- Robert Boyette has always had a passion for making a difference.

After watching the MTV program, "If You Really Knew Me" -- a reality show about teen subcultures and cliques in high school -- and attending a leadership conference at UNC-Chapel Hill, the 16-year-old sophomore at Southern Wayne High School was inspired to take action.

"I thought about it really hard, to make a conference, a program that is going to affect these four social issues -- prejudice and intolerance, apathy and ignorance -- because I see that as a huge problem in our school and our community," he said.

Since September, he has been developing his ideas, enlisting the help of Lynn Dail, an English teacher at the school.

"He met up with me and we have similar passions. I was hungry to find a kid like him. I'm just so honored to be part of this," she said. "He started out with this proposal, wanted to do this and he had already made a PowerPoint to present to the teacher leadership team. They approved it and we pushed forward."

"Wake up, Southern Wayne" became a reality earlier this month, and the day-long event featured such activities as a dance-off, panel discussions and other exercises.

Topics ranged from drug and alcohol addiction to teen pregnancy. One of the activities featured an intervention, with students choosing a role to play -- a child, niece, basketball coach -- in relation to the person struggling with the addiction. In another segment, students were handed a card with either "positive" or "negative" written on it, only to learn moments later the meaning behind the message -- those with "positive" were pregnant.

"Over the last few years, 26 students here at Southern Wayne have been pregnant that have reported it to the WISH Center," Ms. Dail told the audience. "That doesn't even include any others. Twenty-six students, that's a lot."

But that and the other activities were not about judgment, or shock value, but rather to raise awareness and reduce apathy.

"What these activities are going to do is hopefully allow these kids to feel encouraged to step out of that, achieve real human connection," Boyette said.

Perhaps because he has gone through his own obstacles in life and understands firsthand that there will always be a crossroads, Boyette said he hopes to encourage others.

"I have been through some different things that have required me to step up, be a leader, to not worry about what other people think," he said. "I just try to be the best person that I can be.

"Me, like everyone else on this planet, I want to fulfill my potential as much as possible. I'm not waiting for something to come to me. I'm just going to take action now because I can."

For a while, Boyette's future aspirations centered around electronics engineering, a field he still may pursue. But his recent interest in social change has caused him to shift his goals a bit.

"Learning about the human mind and how it works, I want to make this a better world both socially and economically," he said. "I just want to go into something where I can do that and make a large living, for myself and my family."

He has applied to the N.C. School of Math and Science and is currently waiting to learn if he will be accepted.

"That's one reason why he wanted to do this (conference) now," said Ms. Dail. "Because if he leaves in the 10th grade, he wanted to leave with the seeds planted in students' minds."

Dr. John Boldt, Southern Wayne principal, has mixed feelings -- pride in his student, sad at possibly losing a student of Boyette's caliber.

Boldt said he was very impressed with the planning and implementation of the conference. While the first event featured a cross-section of 130 students, including 30 student leaders assistants, the hope is to make it schoolwide in future years.

For the initial outing, though, Boyette seemed pleased.

"The discussions are working, it's going very well, the kids are actually really warming up to the process and opening up, they're being real," he said.

"'Wake Up, Southern Wayne' is a wonderful opportunity for our school," said senior Sarah Wyse. "I think that is has the potential to change our student body."

Anthony Lucas, a junior, said he liked the low-key approach to the relatable topics and efforts to break through some of the racial barriers teens encounter.

"He's bringing out good points on how everybody looks at one another," said Nelbin Velasquez, a junior.

Sophomore Aaliyah Williams said the dialogue allowed the youth to see their peers in a different light and alleviate some of the typical stereotypes.

"The world is full of stereotypes and prejudice," Sarah said. "We really need to take the time to get to know each other and get past the stereotypes and prejudices."

Dale Overton, a tenth-grade student leader who assisted with the program, learned much from surveys done in advance of the conference, particularly responses that some classmates had actually thought about attempting suicide.

"That was an eye-opener," he said.

"Words hurt, man," said Anthony.

The students said they appreciated being part of the conference.

"It was a privilege to even be invited," Sarah said.

"We're here for a reason, basically," added Nelbin.

"Dr. Boldt told us we were here because we had the potential to influence our peers," said Sarah.

"I hope it's not just Southern Wayne. I hope other schools get involved in this," said Nelbin.