CivilTea in the Middle School

Yarmouth, Maine, April 4, 2023: CivilTea is a youth-driven program aimed to encourage civil dialogue around challenging topics within school communities. It was first introduced to North Yarmouth Academy (NYA) Upper School students in 2019 with the goal to bring an open mind and civilty to discussion on sensitive issues.

Sam Grady ’26 (Gorham), inspired by his sister Ella ‘20 who helped bring CivilTea to NYA, believed the program could benefit Middle School students as well. “I wanted kids to understand the world more at an early age,” said Grady. Administration agreed and constructed the framework for a middle school appropriate version with Grady, interested classmates, and faculty facilitators. Grady’s first advocate for the program was Head of Middle School Marissa Markonish, “We find great value in the CivilTea experience as hearing and appreciating different points of view helps students to further develop empathy and allows our community to form tighter bonds.”

Students divided into combined fifth/sixth and seventh/eighth grade groups with both a student and faculty facilitator. Facilitators began the sessions by reviewing the goals of CivilTea and guidelines for engaging actively and supportively in civil discourse. They then read from a list of conversation starters and open-ended questions to get the dialogue rolling. Topics have ranged from “Homework” to “Joking vs. Teasing vs. Bullying.”

Each CivilTea conversation asks students to consider the question, “What do I think?” “This age is when students are forming more nuanced opinions about difficult issues,” said CivilTea Facilitator and Middle School Dean of Students, Annie Powell. “We want to encourage students to think about the reasoning that forms their points of view.”

In addition, CivilTea empowers students to use their voices when something matters to them. “We want them to be active members of their communities, and participating in a CivilTea discussion lets students know that their voices and opinions are valued,” said Powell.

Regardless of the topic, CivilTea prompts students to see and practice the core tenets of civil discussion. In these conversations, students learn the difference between debate and dialogue, and they practice integral skills of active listening, keeping an open mind, and learning from others.