Friday mornings at Two Harbors High School are typically pretty quiet. With the four-day school week, there might be some meetings or practices, but halls are empty and silent, save a whistle echoing out of the gym.
Friday, Jan. 26, however, saw the school filled with more than 600 people that included students from Grand Marais to Barnum and representatives from 34 area businesses and Lake Superior College in Duluth, all in an effort to better the culture and discourse around the region in what's been billed as the "Two Harbors Civility Summit."
"It started when a couple of students came to Mr. (Principal Jay) Belcastro who were seeing some disrespect in the classroom and some bullying," DECA Co-President Katie Archer said. "Mr. Belcastro approached the DECA chapter with it because he thought that would be a good channel to approach it with. We thought about maybe a pep fest at our school, but we figured if it's happening in our school, it's probably not just our school."
The Two Harbors DECA club, an association of marketing and business students, started investigating the issue and found other schools in northeastern Minnesota were having similar problems with their students. The DECA students worked with Mike Thomson and his program, which aims to address issues regarding integrity, awareness, acceptance and humility in area schools, businesses and communities.
"We started with the idea of just inviting schools," Nicole Stanko, the other DECA co-president, said. "We thought, well, if it's happening in schools, it's obviously happening in workplaces and everywhere in the community. We thought if we talked to adults and kids, they can work together and find a better solution throughout the whole community and not just the high school."
Thomson encourages people attending his "Better Me, Better You, Better Us" trainings to focus on bettering the way they interact with people, and consequently, the civility and discourse in schools and communities will naturally begin to improve.
"The focus is if we are going to make a change back at our school, business or university or in society it's going to start with me — it's got to start with me," Thomson said. "Most people start with we want to go back and change our school or change our employees, but you've got to model that first; you have to advocate and teach that first. It's like me — I need to be a better father, every day."
DECA students at Two Harbors created a viral sensation using social media and working with businesses up and down the North Shore to raise money and promote the event. It wasn't long before they were hearing from students at schools outside Two Harbors who wanted to get in on the action.
The campaign got a late boost Thursday, Jan. 25, when Minnesota Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario, relief pitcher John Curtiss, broadcaster Dick Bremer and mascot T.C. Bear took a break from their Winter Caravan to come to Two Harbors for photos with the DECA chapter in the oversized chair near the Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce office.
The day consisted of larger gatherings in the school auditorium and smaller groups and began with Two Harbors junior Thatcher Sunday emerging on stage in a dizzying array of smoke and lights to introduce Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson and Thomson following an energizing beatbox display. After Thomson spoke for about 45 minutes, the small groups discussed different topics and strategies to improve discourse and civility, not just in Two Harbors but around the region and Minnesota as a whole.
Students were the genesis of the idea, but the event was more than just Two Harbors or area high school students. Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson, Two Harbors Assistant Police Chief and Lake County Commissioner Rick Hogenson and a host of other other elected officials were on hand for the summit. Even U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent a video message to the group highlighting the importance of civility and the need to improve discourse, not just in Two Harbors or in Minnesota, but around the nation.
"It is absolutely amazing to see the support from the entire region on this project," Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce President and DECA adviser Janelle Jones said. "I think it sends a big message that everybody recognizes the need for civility in our society and I'm so proud of these kids for stepping up and taking action on it. To get 600 people of all ages excited about coming together and talking about respect and acceptance is not something that happens every day."
In early March, the students will present the summit as part of a marketing and public relations project at the Minnesota DECA Conference. If selected, the students could be asked to present their work at the national DECA conference later in March in Atlanta.