The Open Door Challenge
The Open-Door Challenge is intended as an enriching summer scholarship opportunity, to be cherished, enjoyed and acted upon. The ideas are designed for youth aged 12 – 22. Facilitators in each region can adapt the curriculum to the size and needs of their groups.
- To foster among junior youth, youth and young adults a personal sense of honor, a mutual sense of belonging, and a nuanced understanding of the lessons of history and culture, inspired by the life and times of Robert Turner and beyond;
- To help youth open the door to diverse peers in their communities, based on, shared stories, new understanding, and clarified attributes of their emergent spiritual identities;
- To help youth appreciate the lessons of history and the opportunities of the future as they script practical models for society building, developing a code of ethics for a hypothetical community based on love;
- To inaugurate a season of localized youth service that brings equity and unity specific to the needs of regions and communities (celebrating those projects as they later honor Robert Turner on October 15, after four months of service).
- To reinforce the goals of Baha’i communities in enhancing spiritual strength, faith, and racial amity.
The materials for this symposium are offered as an informal initiative and can be held at any location, onsite or online. If you live within the Bay area of Northern California, you may want to present it at a time when the youth can spend one afternoon on a field trip to the site of the Robert Turner monument in Colma.
Ideally, you may want to present a symposium in mid June, on the week of the anniversary of the passing of Robert C. Turner, with follow-up through mid-October, reporting out on the week of his birthday. Or you may want to conduct online sessions or onsite gatherings over time.
A teaching team of one educator for every four college-age facilitators could work with 40 to 100 attending students. (Or if the symposium is smaller, we suggest admitting no fewer than four groups of three to five students each, led by four facilitators and three supporting educators.
The framework for this summer school curriculum is divided into the following parts, as subjects introduced during a portion of each day:
Open the Door to a New Life takes youth on a day-in-the-life tour of Robert C. Turner’s spiritual quest, from birth to death, through stories, images, music, and discussions of the conditions where he lived and the experiences that made him who he was.
Opening the Door to New Light examines the difference between resistance and constructive resilience. Older students discuss constructive resilience in relation to the Baha’i Writings, the relevance of history in Robert Turner’s time, and their lives today. Younger students consider the impacts of life choices based on historic role models they select. They prepare a living history museum based on the stories and attributes of these role models, to present at their culminating summer school event.
Opening the Doors of our Hearts allows daily storytelling experiences for youth, inspired by the story of Robert Turner. An inspiring story from each group can become part of the culminating event, if desired.
Opening the Doors of History provides an intensive walk through the decades from the time of Mr. Turner’s birth until the present day. Participants form a constitution and code-of-ethics for a new civilization based on love. They construct a system that averts the pains and reinforces the positives of the past and that generates a sense of belonging for all. The integrative history spans current events, religion, and the arts. They engage in discussions and activities, They write clauses to share in the Caucus sessions and to display at the culminating event, preparing for their own role in advancing civilization.
Open the Doors to a New Legacy offers localized groups time to plan projects that will continue throughout the summer, after the symposium. Participants examine the process for designing a teaching or service project relevant to community needs. They can adapt one of several project ideas or can design a project from scratch. (They can celebrate the outcomes at public events they plan on Robert Turner’s birthday.) The projects should inspire faith, engender belonging, and cultivate compassion, equity and social cohesion in local communities.
This curriculum is intended as a flexible springboard for regionalized planning, so groups of facilitator teams will want to meet in advance to:
- Make any necessary adaptations for local relevancy.
- Preplan the field trip or onsite service opportunity. (If near enough, students visit the new Robert Turner monument at the cemetery.)
- Recruit, as needed, additional support services (for publicity, logistics, kitchen services, registration, etc.)
- Invite parents and the broader community to participate in the culminating event.
- Remind facilitators to equally welcome all comers, whatever their religious background, ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic group.
Instructors should feel free to create accommodations for learners of diverse ability levels. However, this opportunity is aimed at earnest youth who understand its first purpose not as a recreational camp but as a symposium to cultivate life skills, to deepen knowledge, and to develop capacity as future leaders who will expand a sense of belonging to everyone in the broader community. Perspectives on history are shared among the breakout groups as they teach one other, guided by challenges that encourage each one to fortify their spiritual identity as the bond that unites.
The full workshop, Open Door Challenge, is designed for participation on the part of students from middle school through college age students, in addition to instructors who accompany and guide the process.
In addition to a lead instructor for each age level, co-facilitators host breakout sessions and assist with presentations.
Those designated as facilitators may want to collaborate prior to co-leading the younger groups about their role as mentors in reinforcing a common vision and nurturing a sense of belonging in all directions, based on faith, equality, and a commitment to serve humankind.
Access to computers will be helpful, if not necessary, for group work. Facilitators may use laptops to access the images and music links in breakout groups of five or fewer. (Mostly, whole-group activity does not require a screen.)
Printing copies of the resources for facilitators may be helpful.
Those designated as facilitators may want to collaborate prior to co-leading the younger groups about the their role as mentors in reinforce a common vision and nurturing a spiritual identity that extends a sense of belonging in all directions, based on faith, equality, and a commitment to serve humankind.
We recommend not including a program of speakers but, rather, a brief introduction, Portal to the Past and Future and smaller-group interactive sessions, with follow-up periods in which groups share their findings.
Each location may consider what age divisions work best for their group, but generally, grades 10 through college may benefit most from the older grade projects and grades 6-9 can bring to life the younger group projects. We suggest, ideally, at least six breakout groups, to allow for well-timed student presentations in the Caucus sessions and to allow up to 15 minutes for major activities that occur within 45-minute sessions throughout the day.
Student emcees will present every aspect of the culminating event, but of course, the preplanning of the adult team will enhance the efficacy and memorability of a life-changing season of teaching, giving, and forming lifelong bonds of unity.
Considerations as you Plan for Success
Note the progression of the downloadable calendar
You may use this website flexibly for onsite or online use. The sample calendar offers one suggestion for a symposium schedule. The scaffolded periods of the day and week align with the table of contents. They build from day-in-the-life awareness of Robert Turner to peer support through storytelling to understanding of the principles of a more inclusive society to preparation for real-world service back home. Study the calendar and adapt as needed.
If you do make changes, be aware that the existing calendar is timed so that in the history section, each group is assigned different decades, and 50-minute sessions will enable all the groups to report out on all the periods in the caucus.
Contemplate age breakout choices.
Small delegations will work throughout the week. It may help to mix three grade levels together but to place students within relative age groups so they can keep up with the conversation and projects.
Generate a sense of belonging even in stretch time.
For example, a thoughtful approach to session icebreakers can generate a sense of belonging and inclusivity: All stand in a circle. One person turns around while another is asked to start a series of movements or gesture for others to mimic. Returning to the group, the person who was it must guess the leader. After guessing, that person appoints the next gesture-maker. Discuss the idea that people who respect the actions of another subconsciously mimic their actions. All must think of the messages we send and the sense of belonging we generate with them, for others are indeed watching.
After the welcome, when assigning spaces for effective group work:
Divide by age groups. (Within those groups, small teams will work together as the week proceeds.)
Divide sessions into 45 minutes, to cover several story activities in a session.
For example, in the history section, you know you have a certain time allowable each day to cover the decades from 1855 to 2021, you could assign the number of breakout groups accordingly, with each taking several decades. You might also allow facilitators to choose the most significant stories of each decade if time is limited. Delegation groups will present the highlights of their learning to one another in the Caucus period.
Break these activities into 45-minute segments, punctuated with activities. By the end of the first day, students should have understanding and empathy for the life of Robert Turner.
Consider the use of “Processing Time”
Program preparation time – with parents as guests when they come to pick up—is incorporated into the schedule, but more evenings can be used for this purpose, or students can determine whether they want more free time, more music time, etc. Some students need the option of quiet time to reflect and relax more than others.
During stretch breaks, include exercise options such as walkathons to represent Robert Turner’s travels.
Before the workshop, brainstorm guided activities, perhaps for early evening, such as a walkathon to replicate the travel of Robert Turner across the country. (For example, a quarter mile could represent the train trip West. A half mile or more could represent pilgrimage – with Egypt and Paris as tangents.)
Unite through Music
Music appears on Youtube videos throughout the histories. Students may want to learn some of these songs or the other songs provided, or they can learn a group song of your choice that represents a theme of unity. Some will want to incorporate music into morning meditations and/or the culminating program. Participatory music is recommended rather than bringing in guest artists.
An instrumental track of the song Honor is available online in addition to the one with lyrics, if helpful.
Focus on rebuilding “Loveland” as you discuss the questions and clauses that will reverse history and build constructive resilience. Help students imagine building a future society based on ideal values.
The groups will share the results of their work in the Caucus period and, if they have leftover time, can use it to make final drafts of clauses on posterboard for their program.
Discussions and activities punctuate the process. For example, assignments are made so that each age group can try their hand at conflict resolution. Vinyl mats can be ordered to quicken this activity, if desired, or can be made on paper. (Pictures are included.)
Sync activities to personal processing.
Continue to incorporate breaks, rehearsal, free time, and physical activity. You may also want to provide an art corner, where students try their hand at Harlem Renaissance art forms to use as program covers.
Finesse the process of consultation and long-term planning.
Student groups see the strength of their consultation as part of a larger process. On the last day of their time together, they read their constitution or code-of-ethics clauses in chronological order. They post the clauses prominently for an audience to see. As time permits, the clauses are copied to appear in a later format, such as a program.
Help participants consider how their words will translate into deeds of loving service.
Facilitators present a template to show the correlation of community needs and resources. They break out into teams by town or neighborhood and plan service projects to conduct over the coming months. Each student team plans a schedule and a process for their plan of action. Reserve at least a half day.
Help peers bond by honoring one another on the last day.
Youths, in small groups, each pass around a journal page where a student has written their name. They honor that student for actions or qualities of love and belonging offered during the week, so each one goes home with a memento from their peers.
Follow-up with action.
If their workshop occurred on the anniversary of Robert Turner’s passing, in June, they may want to reconvene near his birthdate October 15, to report on and celebrate the success of their service to the human family.