Assemblies: What sticks?

Last semester, on Halloween, U-32’s auditorium filled with students for an assembly. At one point sophomore, Noah Mclane was brought to the front of the room for a demonstration on perspective and is told by Tom Murphy, one of the speakers, if he can balance a wooden pole about 4 feet long on his finger he would get one hundred dollars. Noah balanced it for two seconds in front of his face before bouncing the pole off his forehead.

Like many schools, U-32 has the occasional guest speaker come and talk to students. These assemblies are often met with a lack of enthusiasm from students. But the Sweetheart and Heroes anti-bullying assembly, at first, appeared to actually have made an impression. Over time, however, the impact is less clear.

One of the speakers at the assembly, Rick Yarosh, a retired Army sergeant, seemed to have the biggest impact on students. Rick was injured in Iraq in 2006 by an IED. He burnt 60% of his body and lost his nose, both ears, multiple fingers, and his right leg below the knee. After his injury, Rick became a motivational speaker to spread the message of hope. His story left a lot of students inspired and he seemed to connect with the audience.  

The day after the assembly, on November 1st, Peter Arsenault’s W6 Health class started with an open-ended discussion about the assembly. The class shared their opinions about how effective the assembly really was.

“Here, people are willing to tell their personal lives, and sharing stories,” Noah Mclane said. “It makes you listen more and has a bigger impact.”

“To me personally the other assemblies mean nothing compared to this one,” another student said. Peter Arsenault left the class with a question: “We are going to forget about this assembly. Time is going to pass and we are going to get back to people picking on each other, so the big question is ‘What to do next? How do we keep building off the tools this assembly gave us?’” No student had an answer.

Two months later, the assembly had mostly left people’s minds. Out of ten students interviewed only one could name a specific strategy from the assembly to combat bullying. H.O.P.E – Hold On Possibilities Exist.

Most students barely remembered the assembly let alone what was said. Students could tell Rick’s story; they could remember jokes their friends told during the assembly and they could recall interactions the students had with presenters, but not the topic of the assembly: how to stop bullying.

Lindsey Herring remembered the assembly “like the tiniest bit” but not the strategies.

“I think there was something about the ABC’s maybe,” she said. There were no ABC strategies. Hannah Rae says all she remembers about the assembly is “Noah getting hit in the head with the pole of wood.”

The facts and strategies from the school assembly faded fast from people’s memories, but the impact of Rick’s story and his survival are what will endure.

According to teacher and writer, Janelle Cox from “assemblies with guest speakers expose students to real-world life experiences from the position of someone who has been there. Students get to see the [speaker’s] insight and perspective…. of the guest speaker’s particular field.”

Sweethearts and Heroes’ motivational speakers talk to schools all around the country, sharing their message of hope. Plastered on their website and in their speeches they leave the listener with this quote:

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

– Albert Einstein

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