Group on NYC subway platform, day 1. 

Are there ways to bridge the deepening divide in our communities between people of different races, cultures and religions through face-to-face dialogue? How can we help young people look beyond the cycles of violence that dominate the news, to find and nourish mutual respect and understanding?

A few months ago, Vermont educator Mary Simon was approached by two students at Burlington High School to guide a project that would help them to address these urgent challenges. Hawa, a Muslim-American junior at B.H.S., and Charlotte Khamnei (a 2013 Flyin Ryan Adventure Scholar), a sophomore who grew up Christian, knew of a Vermont-based program that could be a good fit. Mary helped these students design a new project using this model. Three other B.H.S. students, Zoe, Nasteha, and Halima, enthusiastically joined the group. The trip was set for June 2017.

Conversations From the Open Road is a traveling citizen-journalism, digital media program for Vermont high school and college students. A crew of 6 students, 1 college intern, a videographer and trip leader Simon take a road trip to another part of the country in order to listen to and learn from individuals on the front lines of a particular struggle. The crew learns the technical and aesthetic aspects of gathering audio, video and still footage, the structure to a good interview, and the ethical considerations in creating public media. Each student ultimately creates a short documentary video reflecting one aspect of the people, place and struggles they encountered on their journey. Later, students will present their edited videos at film festivals around Vermont.

Each student in the group has her particular interest and motivation, but are bound by the shared goal of weaving a closer and more tolerant humanity. However, several members of the group were from New American families who could not afford the $600 program fee. Staff from a local nonprofit, the King Street Youth Center, alerted the students to the Flyin Ryan Adventure Scholarship as a possible funding source. Students then prepared their applications, and worked with Peter Hawks to draft and share their personal Core Values to complete the process.

With help from, a Flyin Ryan major supporter with an interest in community arts and youth development, the Foundation was able to provide four of these students with Adventure Scholarships to help them to make this trip. The group departed Burlington on May 31, bound for New York City with their video tools and interview questions in hand.

(to be continued… A future story will share what they learned, and edited video from their interviews.)

Read more about these adventurers at their bio page!