Southold Town Youth forum focuses on importance of inclusion

Southold Town Youth Forum

Students from Mattituck, Southold, Greenport and Shelter Island high schools came together Friday night at the second Southold Town Youth Forum to discuss the importance of inclusion, especially in their small communities.

Members of each district’s Students Against Destructive Decisions program, along with about 70 other students and 20 adults, watched presentations and pursued activities designed to demonstrate how harmful it can be to judge others.

“Our [town] is small, so [the districts] are really close together and even though they seem really different, inclusion is possible to achieve,” said Althea Mignone, a junior at Southold High School.

The SADD groups had each created a PowerPoint about what it means to be inclusive.

Mattituck’s presentation on cliques was followed by an activity led by Kym Laube, executive director  of Human Understanding Growth Services Inc. Ms. Laube asked the student participants — who were chosen for their involvement in academics, athletics and extracurriculars — to list the different cliques at their respective schools.

Descriptors included jocks, hillbillies, band geeks, theater kids and those in AP classes. Ms. Laube then asked everyone to say which group they were a part of and identify a way they could leave these comfortable confines to reach out to new people.

“The stuff we say to people and the way we treat people has an impact,” said Mattituck senior Lika Osepashvili. “We should be more aware of the way we treat others because we don’t know what they’re thinking on the inside. [The youth forum] taught us to be more friendly to others and to not separate ourselves like we normally do in school.”

In their presentation, Greenport students included images meant to show that their school is already inclusive, using sports teams, shared programs and school productions as some examples.

Southold High School students created a compilation of videos highlighting the importance of not judging others. Topics included homophobic bullying, women’s representation in the media and the concept of masculinity.

The youth forum was put together by the four schools’ SADD club advisers — social workers Jessica Santiago from Southold, Jillian Ruroede from Greenport, Andrea Nydegger from Mattituck and Jennifer Olsen from Shelter Island. This was Shelter Island’s first involvement with the program, Ms. Santiago said.

“This time we did more presenting than having the kids speak, because I think we wanted to leave them with taking this with them,” she said. “This was more fit to them and what they can do. So I think that was the difference in the presentations. Two years ago it was more what the community can do to help you and this year was more what can you do to help the community. I think it worked.”

Students agreed the event was a success and mentioned meeting people from neighboring districts as one of the best parts of the night.

“We learned that when schools do come together it might be awkward at first,” Southold junior Daisy Rymer said, “but then you have to actually start to talk to people and it’s really cool … you want to introduce them to people who couldn’t come.”

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Photo: Local high school students participated in Friday’s Southold Town Youth Forum.(Credit: Nicole Smith)