Local high school students participating in the ‘Virtual Village’ explore the concept of empathy

The oldest students participating in Elon’s Summer in the Village program were paired with nine Elon students to create projects focused on cultivating and understanding empathy.

Chandler Vaughan ’21 worked with Elon’s “Virtual Village” summer program. Her students, local high schoolers, focused on researching and promoting ways to use empathy to combat racism.

Operating out of Elon’s Center for Access and Success, the “It Takes a Village Project” takes a collaborative approach to assisting local K-12 students and their parents with academic support. Annually it hosts a two-week Summer in the Village program, which typically brings students to Elon’s campus for tutoring and learning sessions with local teachers, Elon faculty and staff and student volunteers.

This summer, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program opted for an online model called the “Virtual Village.” More than 200 K-12 students from Alamance and Guilford counties participated this year, and nearly 50 Elon students provided support working as teaching assistants.

The Village participants learned in groups designated by grade level, and within these groups the students focused on a specific topic. A group of Elon students partnered with Paula Fields, an English teacher at Cummings High School in Burlington, to explore the concept of empathy with the Virtual Village’s twelve high school participants.

They divided the teenagers into groups that produced four different projects: a video, a guidebook, a song and an Instagram account.

Investigating their own thoughts and responses to the program’s material was a personal experience for all involved. Here’s what some of them shared:

“I chose the topic of empathy because that seems to be what is lacking in our country. I used to take it for granted that everyone knew how to express empathy, but in observing my students’ interactions in school, and then what’s going on in the world right now, addressing empathy was a no-brainer.”

– Paula Fields, English teacher at Cummings High School

“Empathy is an impactful way I can look at things differently in my life. During the past few weeks, I have learned many things that can make me a better person and how to use them in real-life situations.”

– Giovanni Medin, sophomore at Graham High School

“We learned that sometimes bullies don’t really know how to express empathy because they were never shown empathy. I learned that as a society we need to hold people accountable. If you see someone bullying or any bad actions to other people, report it or possibly speak up.”

– Jose Alex Reyes, senior at Cummings High School

“It takes a village to raise a child. We all have a hand in shaping our youth and showing them their intrinsic power. Mentorship is essentially transferring wisdom and encouraging young people to never stop pursuing knowledge.”

– Chandler Vaughan ’21, Elon University teacher’s assistant