In September, an incident at a football game between Manual and Weld Central high schools left both sides hurt. Dialogue on social media cut deep, with painful assumptions and cultural stereotypes made about both communities.
“That’s where I think a lot of frustration and pain came, from a feeling that the event impacted the community identity,” said Chris DeRemer, dean of culture at Manual High School. “The only way to really repair that relationship would be to connect community to community.”
Manual and Weld Central student leaders agreed, quickly working on a one-day student exchange. The two groups would meet at each other’s respective schools, using restorative practice to guide discussion about how the situation had hurt them and what to do to move forward.
“I was eager. Ready to get at it, to see what they had for us,” said Tayvon Toliver, a sophomore at Manual High School and football player during the game. “To see how they would respond.”
“I really wanted to see what was going on from their side with the conflict, and how we were going to talk as a community,” said Adekunle Alarape, a junior at Weld Central High School who also played in that game. “I just wanted to resolve the conflict.”
The day started up north with students from Manual visiting Weld Central, where they were greeted warmly across the school campus.
“They had these welcome signs for us from every program at their school,” said Laura Delgado, a sophomore at Manual.
One of the biggest surprises to students from both schools was how similar they felt to each other – something they would never have known had they not met face-to-face.
“They welcomed us,” said Toliver. “They’re just a school out in Weld County, and we’re a school in the city. It’s nothing different. We both learn, we both take our education seriously and that’s what I liked about it.”
“I see them here, and I see myself over there too,” said Denalyn Rios, a junior at Weld Central. “I was like, ‘What? They have the same (school) colors as us? We’re the same person!’”
When the group traveled south to Manual, students shared lunch before diving into the harder conversation. While feelings were hurt on both sides in the wake of the football game, students said there was a lot of healing from simply listening to each other.
“Everything, everything we had – all the misunderstandings – we got them all cleared up,” said Manual sophomore Zenique Padilla. “When I look back, we just started off bad. They got a bad (representation) of us, we got a bad (representation) of them.”
“We were pretty biased against them, and they were pretty biased against us,” said Trent Torres, a junior at Weld Central. “But now, we know exactly who they are, and they know who we really are. We as students, we came together.”
As the day continued, both groups got a sense of the pride students have in their respective communities.
“What surprised me was how much pride they had in the agricultural lifestyle,” Toliver said.
“They’re all connected through each other, different cultures coming together in one school,” Weld Central senior Yarethzy Chaparro said. “They’re more diverse than we are here, and it was really cool seeing all the different people. They are more expressive toward others than we are here, and I really like that.”
While the one-day exchange doesn’t erase the pain of what happened during the football game, students on both sides agree that it’s a starting point to finding true, long-term healing.
“I feel like a lot of stereotypes were cleaned up, as well as misunderstandings,” said Manual senior Ani Vazquez. “It is a good first step for our schools overall.”
“We built a bridge over it,” Rios said. “We made the first step of taking two communities and building them into one.”