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Conversation cafes dig deep

Brice Lee, a senior, speaks during a conversation cafe hosted by the school of Global Leadership and Economics at Todd Beamer High School on Wednesday. - Margo Horner/The Mirror
Brice Lee, a senior, speaks during a conversation cafe hosted by the school of Global Leadership and Economics at Todd Beamer High School on Wednesday.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

Students at Todd Beamer High School on Wednesday took a departure from common teenage conversation topics and instead tackled issues such as the Iraq war, trade with China and AIDS in Africa.

Conversation cafes, hosted by the school of global leadership and economics, give students the opportunity to think critically about global issues, said social studies teacher Nick Birklid, who organizes the events. The events happen about three times each year and include more than 200 students.

“It allows them to talk about things that they wouldn’t necessarily talk about with their peers,” Birklid said. “It just allows students to be exposed to different points of view and to talk about them in an atmosphere that isn’t conventional.”

Students who participate in the conversation cafes are divided into groups of eight. They are often paired with students whom they haven’t met before. One teacher joins each group and contributes to the conversation.

“It’s really nice to have students see teachers in that kind of light,” Birklid said. “Just kind of someone that’s older that has that life experience.”

As a result of conversation cafes last year, students organized clubs on campus in an effort to make a difference, said Todd Beamer junior Zach Ginther-Hutt, who helped facilitate Wednesday’s event.

“World change starts off with small conversations,” said Marisa Bunker, a Todd Beamer junior who also helped facilitate the event.

“I know a lot of people who would say they’ve made really great friends from this,” Bunker added.

Among other topics on Wednesday, students discussed the war in Iraq. While some of the students said they didn’t know enough about the issue to comment, many of them had strong opinions.

Brice Lee, a senior, said he supported staying in Iraq for as long as necessary. He quoted John McCain, who suggested that there could be a U.S. presence in Iraq for up to 100 years.

“We need to have that reputation of finishing things we started,” Lee said.

Mari Doyal, also a senior, said she would like to see government leaders begin planning a withdrawal from Iraq.

“I’m kind of thinking we should stay but start to think about getting out of Iraq,” she said. “How we leave Iraq is going to be very important to the future of Iraq.”

Discussing issues such as the Iraq war is important because the outcome will affect students’ futures, said Todd Beamer senior Isaac Steinmetz.

“When we sit at lunch, it’s just kind of how the school day’s going,” Steinmetz said. “This is more about the world and things that are going to affect us for our whole lives.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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