They pounded hammers and created art with paintbrushes. They learned to fix plumbing and write biographies of animals. They cut vegetables, stirred pots, and learned to climb mountains. They packed food for the poor and visited the sick and the lonely.
They walked together through outdoor trails and fell backwards into each other’s arms. They studied the healing powers of herbs and music. And they came face to face with "zombies" … and therapy dogs.
Such were the experiences of hundreds of students during Agora Week 2018. Appropriately, the activities matched the theme of the biennial event: "Habits of the Heart." The traveled by bus and car to Michigan and towns across Northwest Ohio. Like their counterparts who traveled overseas, these students matured emotionally and cognitively by embracing the week of alternative learning and self-exploration. They celebrated their collective discoveries at a closing ceremony November 16.
Thank you to the many volunteer organizations that opened their doors to our students. And thank you to the faculty and parent chaperones who made these visits and experiences possible.
Below are descriptions of this year’s workshops:
Project Playhouse: This workshop allowed students to give back to the community by joining Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity in creating playhouses for area families. Each playhouse was individualized to fit a child’s love and imagination. In doing so, students put a smile on a child's face by creating a new favorite getaway. (see image at right)
Soup for the Soul: Everyone has a memory of being given soup when they were feeling under the weather. Soup is a medicine for the soul and prominent in every culture. Students cooked their way through different cultures and learned how soup can cure not only your illnesses but much more.
Furever Home: A perennial favorite, this workshop allowed students to serve as volunteers at the Toledo Area Humane Society. They learned about the group's mission as well as the facility’s daily operation. Each student bonded with an animal that needed a home, took a glamour shot of the animal, wrote a bio for its adoption, and developed a marketing plan to find it a "furever" home.
The Climb: This perfect rite of passage provided a new challenge and point of view by preparing students to climb a mountain. Village resident and mountain climber Von Sigler presented a weeklong program that taught students aspects of mountain climbing. Students learned about conditioning, safety, and equipment, and other important aspects of the sport.
Sights & Sounds. Students discovered how art, nature, and the senses come together through a Toledo Museum of Art exhibit. Diving into a multisensory art installation of video, new media, and works on paper by artists from around the world, "Sights & Sounds: Art, Nature, and the Senses" presented modern and contemporary works of art in a variety of media that explored the natural world.
Volunteer in Toledo: Toledo has always been a city of diversity. These different walks of life present in one city makes Toledo so unique. Students explored the city around them through a variety of volunteering opportunities. Helping the community around them helped students discover something about themselves.
Life Through the Eyes of Medicine: Birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, death: Throughout our five stages of life, society treats us differently. During the week, students explored these stages by looking at variances at the role of medicine in each. Much more than just a career exploration, this workshop exposed students to unconventional healing and provocative ideas.
Therapy Dogs: A therapy dog can change the life of a person and family for the better. In partnership with The Ability Center, students learned how therapy dogs are trained and how families are selected for assistance. The Ability Center works to assist people with disabilities to live, work, and socialize within a fully accessible community.
Music as a Social Force: In this workshop, students explored a range of topics, such as: How does music affect social change? Can a song push people toward change for the better within communities? Are there deeper messages hidden in the lyrics that we carelessly sing off-key in our car?
The PEACE (Protecting Every Abused Child Everywhere) Project: This was a student-led anti-bullying and mentoring program. Its goal was to give students who are bullied, abused, or struggling to fit in a chance to belong. Students focused on reaching out to middle schoolers in the Toledo area. The PEACE Project is expanding throughout the region and the country to help combat the nation’s bullying problem; more than 1,000 students nationwide take part.
Who Am I Really?: What does society say we are? What does genetics say we are? What do we say we are? Throughout their lives, students are bombarded with definitions of ourselves. During the week, students looked through various "lenses" to try and truly define ourselves. In order to prepare, participants were encouraged to use 23andme to see themselves through their biology. The program featured discussions, field trips, insight, surprise, and, most importantly, understanding.
Creating Canvases: Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values, and translating experiences across space and time. Research has shown art affects the fundamental sense of self. Painting, sculpture, music, literature, and the other arts are often considered to be the repository of a society’s collective memory. In this workshop, students addressed the question: How can your personal creations influence our society.
Food: An Urban Story: Small Space, Big Impact: Students experienced a hands-on program that opened their eyes to the urban garden phenomenon. Our urban farmers dove into small-space gardening, organic methods, and other topics. They discovered that communities also come together to form gardens and, with each seed planted in a community garden, the roots of that city grow stronger. Students also learned how gardens not only beautify their surroundings but create long-lasting partnerships.
Outdoor Living: Participants began the week by participating in the COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) course at Camp Miakonda led by area instructors. COPE prepared them for the teamwork needed the rest of the week. Students visited Metroparks Toledo to learn other vital individual and group-survival skills, including orienteering, shelter building, and archery.
Heart & Sole: The earliest of our ancestors were "one" with earth and mindfully lived their oneness with all life. Gratitude was their heart song. Dance and ritual were their lifeblood and an offering to those who went before. Theirs was an ancient timelessness, a sense of belonging, and an understanding that home is here – and everywhere. Mindfulness practice helps people come to terms with the path they walk, to see things as they are, and to deepen understanding and compassion. Students explored how walking relates to mindfulness in part by visiting Weber Retreat and Conference Center in Adrian.
Natural Living: Do plants really have healing powers? Students explored how plants help to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and other stressors. They also created their own healing salves, potpourris, and kombucha. They learned how memory gardens or working with house plants and herbs can change the attitudes of residents in nursing homes, rehab facilities, and hospice.
Making Connections: Students explored how plumbing and electrical wires come together to power a house. For these participants, they never to worry about having to call on someone to fix a leaky sink again: They can do it themselves!
Humanity in the Face of Disaster: What does it take to survive a zombie apocalypse? How would people stay alive with their humanity intact? Students experienced a deeper understanding of human morals and ethics through the lens of a zombie apocalypse, along with exploring disasters that have already occurred and the human response to those disasters.
Agora Storytellers: The students behind telling the story of the week in words and music.
Tech Crew: A dedicated group of students who were comfortable with technological set-ups and takedowns.
In addition to hearing from speakers, junior high students (seventh and eighth graders) had their own mini-Agora, which included a trip to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Mich., and the Ritter Planetarium at the University of Toledo.