The bell rings at South Miami Senior High and the shuffling begins. Chairs scoot, footsteps echo. Typical stuff of high school life, except that the “students” aren’t teenagers but rather adults, ready to be schooled in how different the world is from their
glory days.

What brings them here is Youth Dialogue Day, an annual event hosted by the school and the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition to engage community leaders in conversations with area youth. Among the attendees this year were representatives from state legislators’ offices, business leaders, law enforcement, school district officials and representatives from community organizations. Their conversations ran the gamut from school cleanliness to immigration, from jobs to health care to community involvement. There’s just one caveat: it’s the kids who do the talking and the adults who do the listening. Questions from the adults are allowed, lectures are not.

“This is a unique opportunity for our youth to be heard by the people who make decisions that impact them,” said Margaret Sotham, Director of the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition. “It’s a whole new generation of leaders inspiring change and learning the strength of their own voice.”

And heard they were. One student noted at the end of the day that he was encouraged to know adults cared about what’s happening in the schools and the students’ lives.

This year’s Youth Dialogue Day, held on Jan. 24, drew more than 60 adults and youth to the three-hour event. Students occupied a handful of the seats at strategically arranged tables in a cordoned-off section of the school gymnasium, while adults filled in the rest. A signal the beginning and end of each discussion round, helped usher adults to a different table to begin again. After the discussion rounds, attendees were treated to a performance by students participating in the coalition’s Street To Stage afterschool program, which uses the arts to teach resiliency, and reflected on the day’s learning over lunch, provided by Carrabba’s of South Miami. Chamber South and Publix also contributed to the event.

Gilberto Bonce, principal at South Miami Senior High, talked with pride about the school, its legacy and the incredible potential of students there, and he also encouraged the guests to heed the call to listen and not talk. “Our students have a lot to say and the need a forum like Youth Dialogue Day to make it possible for them to speak out,” Bonce said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them or more pleased that our guests really took to heart their mission to listen.”


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