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'More Than Words' a problem-solving program

New London — Brady Foster, 15, said he recalls feeling intimidated as a high school freshman.

Now Foster, a sophomore at Robert E. Fitch High School in Groton, believes a new program may help freshmen and upperclassmen appreciate one another more, along with promoting respect of diversity in all areas.

The program, called “More Than Words,” is among the initiatives that Michael Graner, who starts next month as superintendent for Groton Public Schools, is bringing to the district.

Foster and nine others from Fitch attended a workshop Wednesday at the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London.

“I feel like the message is to help with problem-solving,” he said.

Graner started “More Than Words” with other administrators in 2007, to deal with diversity issues including racial and economic differences. The program pulls together students from Ledyard High School — including students from the Mashantucket Tribal Nation community — New London High School and the Science and Technology Magnet High School. Fitch students joined this year.

The students gather for a series of workshops aimed at conflict resolution, then take those lessons back to their home schools. They also speak to younger students.

“You could be at a school that is very diverse, but the respect for the diversity might not be there,” said Damaris Zimbelman, a teacher at the magnet school involved in the program. “So the main focus of this group is to promote respect of the diversity and then build trust.”

Students from the different schools also shadow one another.

“It helps to take away any misconceptions that they have, any fear of the unknown and tear down those walls,” Zimbelman said.

On Wednesday, students watched a performance by Adwoa Bandele-Asante, a re-enactor portraying Harriet Tubman.

“My life shows how faith and courage can overcome pain and bring about success,” Bandele-Asante told the audience of about 50. Students and others then asked her questions and discussed what they had learned.

Reanna Sahoo, 15, a sophomore at Fitch, said she’s enjoyed building relationships with students from other schools.

“We’re hoping to spread the message that we’re learning here to our peers,” she said, adding, “The message is to promote diversity and expand communication. We’re trying to just accept everyone.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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