We opened our newly appointed Story Café this past month at Glendale Science and Technology School. At Glendale we believe that everyone has a learning story, and that through our efforts to learn each other's stories, we honor the value that diversity brings to our school. So 'learning stories' is a noun... the narratives that make our school such an interesting and engaging learning place to experience, and a verb in that we make the effort everyday at Glendale to be 'learning each other's stories'.
The Story Café vision began last year when our middle school leadership students (ours is a kindergarten to grade eight school) opened what they called the Action Café. Their idea was to provide a space where kids and adults could gather, talk and get to know each other better in a casual non threatening environment away from the classroom. It was also a place to raise money for particular causes they supported. It was a hybrid idea of our "Starbuck's classroom" concept, and the notion that we need to talk to each other to understand each other better.
The project went fairly well. A few guest speakers joined in to share their stories over the course of the year, and kids hung out there at lunch once or twice a week when the Action Café was open. This year though, a new group of leadership students thought they could do better. They decided they wanted to blend our learning stories concept with the Action Café idea to create a newly themed gathering place called the Story Café. So that's what they did!
It took a while to formulate plans... they had to find a space, (we had an empty classroom in the south wing that they got permission to use,) fill it with furniture and other decorations that fit the Story Café theme, create a menu, (we serve hot chocolate and nutrition policy adhering treats that the kids make themselves in the Food Studies Lab,) create roles and responsibilities, (we have servers, counter people, greeters, sound and video people, decorators, bus people, cooks and more,) create a schedule and even book their own guest speakers. They got it all done though, and the first of these guest speakers was Mr. Phil Bota.
Mr. Bota, a local resident, successfully climbed Mt. Everest in 2011 at twenty two years of age in memory of his father who died of a heart attack when Phil was a teenager. Phil made the climb on behalf of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. He told us his remarkable story for an hour and thirty minutes on opening day of Story Café, and you could have heard a pin drop the entire time. That's him on the left.
At Glendale we take pride in the way we focus on showing empathy and teaching empathy. As Phil spoke it was very hard not to feel empathy for him. Even though he accomplished this amazing feat of adventure in climbing Mt. Everest at such a young age when nobody except those closest to him believed he would, or could do it, there was a humility about the way he presented his story and a level of respect that he displayed that drew all of us into his amazing and inspiring story. When he was finished telling it, he asked for questions, and our Inspire Leadership students and VIP guests asked him the usual line up of questions, (he says he gets the "how did you go to the bathroom in that suit when it was so cold all the time?" question every time he does a talk:), but they also had much more to say.
One girl told him that he had inspired her to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer. Another asked him how he prepared mentally and emotionally to complete such a difficult journey under emotionally challenging circumstances and yet another asked about how scared he was that he may not make it to the top. The conversation was real, authentic and engaged all of us in so many ways. We were so honored to have Phil Bota speak at our grand opening. Phil taught us a lot about empathy through the telling of his story; how he was empathetic to the Sherpa guides that took care of him; his family worrying about him back home; others who didn't complete the journey with him, but most impacting was how he told us about the empathy he felt for his dad when he looked across the horizon from the summit to see the massive Himalayan range before his eyes. In an indescribably personal way he said to his dad, "we made it." He told us that whether he made the summit or not, it was the journey that was important; the connection to his father and the feeling that he was there with him, experiencing what he felt. I can only imagine how close Phil felt to his dad at that moment in visceral and loving understanding of what he was feeling at that time, even thought he wasn't physically there with him... the ultimate form of empathy.
Many, many thanks to Mr. Phil Bota, local adventurer and master story teller for sharing his story of love, adventure, resilience and overcoming adversity with us at the grand opening of Glendale's Story Café.