David Thuene, an English teacher at Spring Lake High School, knew he wanted to get a better understanding of bullying when he read a startling journal entry by one of his students. In the entry, she highlighted the aftermath of severe harassment she experienced in her middle school years.
Reading about what she went through inspired David to read a nonfiction book about bullying titled Sticks and Stones, written by Emily Bazelon. His admiration for the book grew, and he decided to share it with the Spring Lake community by starting a book club that included 250 people in which they all discussed the book over a three-month reading schedule.
“At the end of the three months we asked what we wanted to do about these problems in our own community,” David says. “The members of the book club said that we needed to keep sharing our own stories and that it is important to realize no one is alone.”
This idea led David to collect stories of empathy from the community and create the book Elevate Empathy to display real-life examples of empathy, which is the ability to understand and share feelings of another. David worked with his former student to bring in Spring Lake High School students’ stories as well.
“To work shoulder-to-shoulder with my students as creators has been one of the greatest joys of the last few years,” David says. “As contributors, we spanned ages and interests from around our community: grandparents, parents, students, doctors, business owners, teachers. Why? Because everyone at every age, occupation, gender, race, social status, etc. benefits from empathy.”
After a successful run of the book on Amazon, David knew that wanted to continue sharing student stories with the purpose of broadening empathy. He decided to create and produce The Share Chair Podcast. The podcast features a weekly student interview with diverse stories they share to ultimately paint a picture about who they are and why empathy is important.
“Empathy is a complex emotion that doesn’t say, ‘I understand what you are going through, I’ve been there,’ in the semi self-involved way that sympathy does,” Ashleigh Higgs says, a pervious host of The Share Chair Podcast. “It says, ‘I hear you, and I want you to know that I support you.’ Empathy is the best foot you should always put forward while walking through life.”
Former Spring Lake High School student Elise McGannon is the original co-founder and a current contributor for The Share Chair Podcast. She has felt empowered to be part of a project that has the intention of guiding people to connect on a deeper level and she has been proud of the impact personally.
“I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to be the first to conduct the interviews,” Elise says. “I have always thought that no matter who you are talking to, they would have something valuable and important to say. Hearing the inspiring and unique words from each of our vastly different interviewees has been one of the greatest honors of my high school and college career thus far.”
Not only has Elevate Empathy and The Share Chair Podcast impacted the students involved, it has also been part of other movements at Spring Lake High School with the purpose of bringing people closer together.
“Last year, we had a Whole Child Initiative where, as a school, we took 30 minutes each month to focus on letting students know we care about their entire well-being, not just the academic student,” David said. “Additionally, our art department created The Chalkboard Project. It allows students to share the word that has hurt them the most throughout their young lives and then turn it around. I don't know if Elevate Empathy made the fertile ground for these other projects, but I think it helped to develop a creative atmosphere. One thing is for sure, our school community has put forth an effort to connect.”
“This stethoscope is a game-changer for me and something I wouldn’t have been able to afford without the connection Tech Center helped me make with MRS,” —Rey Gonzalez, Careerline Tech Center student
“I feel having a ride to school is very important, and I knew I had to help any way I could to get these students to school.” —Greg Ceithaml, English teacher and Bus Driver