Lone Star High School’s rising seniors Daniel Szczechowski and Aaron Raye know a thing or two about building bridges … just not in the typical sense. The two teenagers combined their ideas to start a group focused on unity, connection and understanding during these divisive times. “What we are doing is encouraging people from all different backgrounds and sorts of ideas to come together to have uplifting conversation about the most serious, pressing issues,” Mr. Szczechowski and Mr. Raye share. Students who participate come from different religious backgrounds and political affiliations.
The ambitious friends are describing the goal of the Lone Star High School’s Bridge Club. The Bridge Club is an after-school group surrounding the goal of “bridging together” perspectives and providing necessary discourse on real life issues, ranging from comparative politics and education reform to just about any social issue. Through constructive conversation, the club discusses social issues in a friendly environment. Lone Star High School, in fact, carries the reputation of maintaining a hub of social diversity, historically containing groups ranging from the Muslim Student Association to the Black Student Union. Consequently, the Bridge Club carries the torch of revolution in that it aims to continue the necessary concepts surrounding the idea of unity. “We got the idea when I was talking to students within our student body while I was running for class vice president,” Mr. Raye shares. “People would ask how I could personally make a difference to bring unity to our class and bring people together from all different occupations within our school, such as sports or band. This club is sort of my answer,” he says.
After considering a shift of the social climate into a ground of polarity, the two rising seniors assessed their surroundings and hit the ground running. In fact, according to the two gentlemen, the Lone Star High School Bridge Club originally started as an unattainable idea that later grew into a successful, well-oiled machine. “We are sort of trying to create this one area of understanding and acceptance, in a time where we are so divided and conflicted, where we can come together and understand different perspectives,” Mr. Raye explains.
Evidently, like building any other bridge, the two young men first searched for a purpose in which to build it. “When we first brought this idea to Mr. Tolleson, our associate principal, he asked us what the difference between this club and a debate club was. We found the answer was that we simply wanted to have conversation. It is really not supposed to be about an argument, but rather about having discourse with others who share different views,” says Mr. Szczechowski.
The name of the club, in fact, suggests the need for an environment of collaboration, which ultimately leads to a corollary of unity and mutual respect. “We initially went through so many name suggestions to portray what we were going for,” Mr. Raye shares. Some of these names included “Student Conversation Club,” “Social Conversation Club” and “Student Conversation Council.” However, none of these names were a match for the imagery of collaboration that “The Bridge” provides. “The name itself is very important,” Mr. Raye explains. “One day, we were just talking about what name could really bring people together and bridge gaps, and I immediately thought of a bridge! That is when we just knew,” he adds. “The whole point of the name shows that to bridge different ideas, you always should look at the other side of the water,” Mr. Szczechowski elaborates.
The challenging food-for-thought discourse that begins weekly in The Bridge Club meetings on Thursdays after school is later continued on to The Arch meetings in the Raye household, following The Bridge Club meetings. The Arch was birthed subsequently to The Bridge and holds identical goals to The Bridge Club. However, the audience of The Arch rather consists of parents and teachers. “The parents themselves come from such incredible backgrounds with unique stories they like to share with us. It is truly an amazing environment, The Arch,” Mr. Raye marvels. However, the two young men initially were skeptical of the idea of adult meetings. “Originally, an interviewer asked us if we thought The Arch meetings would run smoother than The Bridge meetings. I said ‘no,’” Mr. Szczechowski laughs. “I thought young people would be open to listening to more opinions, as adults are often so set in stone. I was extremely wrong, though. After going to The Arch meetings, I found the parents and adults remained mature and open-minded. Aaron and I found that comes from the very thing we thought would divide them. In a way, they understand each other better than the high schoolers do. It is weird because they know so much more than we do. Their vastly different experiences ultimately make them more understanding of each other and what they have to say.”
Mr. Szczechowski continues, “It is so beneficial to just sit in and listen to these meetings and how they detail their upbringings and how it contributes to their own perspectives and experiences. The best part is, the adults ultimately end up relating to each other more and more by the end of the meetings, which is really awesome.” The climate of The Arch ultimately remains the same as The Bridge.
As the two young men continued throughout this past school year, they found the club’s goal is not to maintain an overall sense of agreement, but rather an environment for understanding differences or disagreement. The club has discussed topics including racism, health care and violence, all topics which contain a plethora of firm beliefs. However, the pair remains cognizant in bettering their own approach to discourse regarding worldly issues to consistently reach a balance in understanding. “Education is all about approach to a wide range of topics,” Mr. Raye explains. “We always make sure to deliver facts for discussion, as we are always open to increasing awareness for certain topics that some probably have never thought of. What we are doing is educating people on the topics that a conventional education system might not talk about because of controversy. These are issues you normally would not hear about in the basic school atmosphere. You probably would not always walk into the room knowing too much on an issue, but by the end, it is important to develop a stance or opinion on that particular topic. You should want to learn more. That is what education is all about,” Mr. Szczechowski says.
The idea of education lying in the journey for knowledge is evident as the pair remains endlessly admirable of the club’s teacher sponsor, Mr. Paulses Kollie, purely in his ability to remain objective in his pursuit of knowledge inside and outside of his physics classroom. “He is fresh out of college, and, in a way, is just like us. He is always willing to have conversations with you about anything, from physics to any real-world issue, and that is the type of energy we like to have present in the club,” Mr. Raye says.
All in all, the two young men are in an endless pursuit of building bridges in every aspect of their lives. The pair plans to continue the club throughout their senior year, and, later on, hand it over to underclassmen as a legacy in hopes of changing the world. Following high school, in fact, the two plan on pursuing college educations, studying spheres surrounding global politics. Ultimately, Mr. Raye and Mr. Szczechowski are gathering tools to build more bridges in their lives, while leaving a path for similarly ambitious FISD students to soon follow.