‘Days of Dialogue’ arrive for Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley high school students

Youth pastor and Fountain Valley High School alumnus Manny Gallegos Jr. speaks to students.
Youth pastor and Fountain Valley High School alumnus Manny Gallegos Jr. speaks to students at the school’s Day of Dialogue in 2019. The program has been expanded to a week-long virtual program this year.
(Courtesy of Janet Marquez)

“We fear each other because we don’t know each other.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fountain Valley High School senior Cielo Chavarria said she thinks of this quote when she thinks of “Days of Dialogue,” the weeklong virtual program being presented to students at Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach high schools this week.

Cielo is the FVHS Barons Bridge Builders president this year, and the group is coordinating the Days of Dialogue effort along with Huntington Beach High Bridges students. The two organizations are part of the larger Orange County Human Relations Bridges program, a nonprofit social justice organization in the county. Cielo is one of three student board members on the O.C. Human Relations Bridges board.

“It’s really hard to not like someone and to stereotype someone when you know them and you build compassion for them as a person,” Cielo said.

“You begin to understand their experiences, and I think that’s what Days of Dialogue is, learning about other experiences and sharing about your experiences. That’s why it’s been so meaningful to me, because it’s been a space where I can learn about my peers on a very deep level and share about my own experiences, and feel like I belong as well.”

Day of Dialogue, which was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, is typically a daylong event at each of the high schools, Fountain Valley Bridge Builders advisor Janet Marquez said. About 20 speakers would go classroom to classroom at Fountain Valley, while it was held at Huntington Beach as part of the school’s Social Justice Week.

This year, it has been expanded to four days — hence the plural “Days” of Dialogue — and the schools are working collaboratively for the first time on the event.

The sessions, which started Tuesday and continue through Friday, will be shown via Zoom to 87 classes both during and after school hours.

They are aimed at facilitating intimate discussions on social issues. Along with members of HBHS Bridges and FVHS Bridge Builders, students from both school’s ASB programs, as well as UC Irvine’s Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Healing program (DIRHA), will accompany the presenters and host the meetings.

Writer/producer Sandra Robbie speaks to Fountain Valley High School students as part of 2019's Day of Dialogue.
Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Sandra Robbie speaks to Fountain Valley High School students as part of 2019’s Day of Dialogue.
(Courtesy of Janet Marquez)

One discussion will be on COVID-19 and Anti-Asian Racism. The presenter will be Julie Vue, the director of Youth and Education Programs for Orange County Human Relations.

Another presentation on economic and racial justice will be presented by Irene Rivera and Desiree Sanchez of the ACLU. Sandra Robbie, the writer and producer of the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary “Mendez vs. Westminster: For All The Children,” will speak on the 1947 Orange County desegregation case that inspired the documentary.

A presentation by officials from the LGBTQ Center Orange County will focus on the history of the LGBTQ rights movement.

Overall, more than 20 topics will be addressed.

Kailee Maechtle, president of the HBHS Bridges group, which is advised by Kimberly McGlaughlin, said it’s hard to overstate what Bridges has meant to her.

“I found it really hard to keep hope in the world when there’s so many bad things happening, but then I got to meet so many people who shared the same passions and values as me,” Kailee said.

“We got to make direct change on our campus and with our community. I can’t even describe all of the opportunities I’ve been given with this program, but I absolutely love it. It means a lot to me.”

Marquez, the longtime advisor of the FVHS Baron Bridge Builders program, definitely shares the same sentiment. She said the program is looking for funding for next year and beyond to cover its $5,000 cost per year.

The Huntington Beach High Bridges program began in 2006 with a grant from the Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force, McGlaughlin said, and funding since then has been provided by the HBHS Foundation.

As for Days of Dialogue, students and advisors are hoping for productive interaction. But the program was already a difference-maker before it began, Fountain Valley High English teacher Lauren Bielefeld said in an email.

“I talked about what ‘Day of Dialogue’ is, and showed my third period the list of sessions,” Bielefeld said.

“Then after I finished helping a student with something, he asked, ‘Can white people experience racism or prejudice?’ We talked about it. I asked him what brought it up, and he said that in addition to what has been happening recently, looking at the sessions and having a brief discussion about the ‘COVID-19 and Anti-Asian’ session made him want to ask. I thought that was really cool!”

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