Waynflete Earns Major Grant to Improve Political Discourse and Civic Engagement
Waynflete, an independent preK–grade 12 school in Portland, has been awarded a major grant to support the creation of The Center for Civic Engagement, a partnership between schools and a diverse set of organizations to expand discourse and revive civility across differences.
The $250,000 matching grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation will enable Waynflete to build on the success of the The "Can We?" Project, which brings students from disparate communities together to learn dialogue skills and practice collaborative decisionmaking across political divides, and the New England Youth Identity Summit—an event focused on identity, diversity, and community that features dozens of student-led workshops and draws close to 400 students from over 30 schools. The grant also allocates funds for the development of new programs and partnerships.
In the past, Waynflete has worked with schools from across Maine and as far away as Connecticut, and intends to partner with schools nationally in the coming year. Partner organizations include Seeds of Peace, the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Narrative 4, Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder, and others.
"Dialogue about issues that matter to students cultivates in them a deep sense of purpose that in turn seeds the habits of lifelong civic engagement," said Tim Wilson, Maine director for Seeds of Peace. "Partnerships such as the one between Waynflete and Maine Seeds of Peace on the New England Youth Identity Summit make those opportunities possible. This grant allows Waynflete and Maine Seeds of Peace to continue working with youth who are establishing their leadership in many Maine communities."
Cultivating students' agency and trusting their ability to lead critical conversations about contentious societal issues is at the core of the Center's current and future programs. Waynflete senior Dora Russem, a recent presenter at the 2019 New England Youth Identity Summit, explains that "dialogue has taught me to be brave, to speak my truth, and to feel empowered enough to create space for others to speak their truth, too. It's a powerful thing for students to find their voices and to be advocates for the issues they care about. I believe dialogue is the best way to build these skills."
Waynflete's mission is grounded in the belief that the educational experiences of all students are enhanced in an environment that values diversity and respects all voices. When students are challenged through exposure to a wide range of viewpoints, they learn to examine their assumptions, question the status quo, and creatively craft solutions to society's most daunting challenges.
"Students must develop the skills and ability to work with—and learn from—people with whom they may disagree," said Waynflete Head of School Geoff Wagg. "Our role as educators is to foster optimism, to engage our students as active citizens and civic leaders, and to make replicable models that will teach these skills to students and communities on a greater scale.
With the support of the Edward E. Ford Foundation and the help of partner schools and organizations, we can demonstrate the power, wisdom, and creativity that is unleashed when diversity is honored instead of feared."
The mission of The Edward E. Ford Foundation is to strengthen and support independent secondary schools and to challenge and inspire them to leverage their unique talents, expertise, and resources to advance teaching while encouraging collaboration with other institutions. The Foundation's Leadership Grant Program is the most prestigious award available to independent schools.
"In a community that has a profound respect for the primacy of relationships among its members, Waynflete is extending its reach in Maine as it attempts to revitalize democracy through its use of dialogue across differences," said John C. Gulla, executive director of The Edward E. Ford Foundation. "Having partnered with the school when it first developed the New England Youth Identity Summit, the Foundation is pleased and proud to deepen our commitment to Waynflete with this Educational Leadership Grant supporting this more ambitious program, which we believe can and should be replicated."
Watch a video overview of The "Can We?" Project