The name for their fledgling organization came to the teacher one day, and he called the student.
“Fork in the Road, that’s the name,” he said.
“Yes,” she answered. “Of course it is; that’s the name.”
Fork in the Road, they decided, was perfect because it conjures images of paths and ideas about taking new ones. It symbolizes the point at which students choose to go a different direction, toward new ideas and experiences and people they may or may not have noticed in the hallways.
And that, in a very broad mission-statement-sort-of-way, is the point of the group.
“Fork in the Road creates moments for paths less traveled,” said Lincoln High senior Elizabeth Yost, who knew the name was right when she heard it. “It gives people a platform to communicate with one another, to share experiences, stories, perceptions that aren’t easily recognized at Lincoln High -- and in Lincoln -- and it gives everyone a chance to listen and to speak.”
Yost and teacher Chris Maly are the brains and heart behind Fork in the Road, which grew out of their experiences last summer at the Aspen Ideas Festival, part of a prestigious, yearlong leadership program sponsored by the Bezos Family Foundation.
Fork in the Road draws from two different groups at Lincoln High: those in the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program and those in the school’s English Language Learner program.
Maly, who teaches English in the IB program, came up with the name as he considered how the IB students tend to be insulated in their own world and rarely interact with ELL students. As an educator, he wants to change that.
Yost, who is in the IB program, does too, and was pleased to discover that 30-some students who joined Fork in the Road felt the same way.
Their goal, in addition to getting to know each other, is to create a Festival Week at the end of April, five days of activities that will provide a chance for students to tell their stories, connect with new people and help refugees around the globe.
Yost and Maly were among 30 students and educators from across the country accepted into the Bezos Scholar Program and were inspired by the summer institute that brings together the country’s foremost thinkers.
“We were given a week to think about how important ideas are and how they can create, and more importantly, how they can impact change and affect humanity,” Maly said.
Then, teacher and student were charged with finding ways to put those ideas into action at home.
Yost, like Maly, knew she wanted to do something to bring together the IB and ELL kids, an idea that likely took root during her freshman year when she was a teacher’s assistant for an ELL class.
She’d already considered a career as an ELL teacher, she said, and was curious about the world beyond Lincoln. She fed that curiosity by studying abroad twice during high school, the first time for three weeks in China with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Confucius Institute, and the second during a six-week exchange program to Finland.
“I think it really set the stage for a lot of what I’ve done,” she said. “I think it really continued to fuel my desire to know more about the world.”
Ultimately, it led to Fork in the Road and the upcoming festival and a recent meeting in Room 305 at Lincoln High to hammer out the details.
They talked to a local artist about one of the week-long events: making pinwheels to help Syrian refugees.
A program through the Bezos Foundation called Students Rebuild will donate $2 for each pinwheel Lincoln High students make. The pinwheels will go to students in refugee camp classrooms in Lebanon and Iraq, and the money raised will be used to train teachers working in the camps.
Nearly 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war began, and more than 4 million have sought refuge in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, according to the Bezos Foundation website.
Many of the ELL kids in Lincoln came from refugee camps, making the topic particularly relevant, Yost said.
In addition to the pinwheel project, Festival Week will include a panel discussion about refugees fleeing conflict.
Other activities the week of April 25 include a storytelling event and a film festival featuring films and stories by Fork in the Road members. There will be a “Links on the Green” activity where students will talk with someone they don’t know, find a connection, shoot a selfie with them and post it on Twitter or Facebook.
The week will end with the Lincoln Unites at Tower Square, a community-wide event that Fork in the Road helped organize.
The festival is no small undertaking, but Yost is not afraid to think big, said Maly.
In addition to the Bezos Scholar program, she won a $20,000 scholarship from the Coca-Cola Foundation for her leadership abilities and attended a leadership development institute with other Coca-Cola scholars in Atlanta.
She’s an artist and a nanny and president of the Young Democrats at Lincoln High. She caucused for Hillary Clinton and hasn’t yet decided what she wants to do after high school, although she’s applying to colleges across the country. She’s still considering being an ELL teacher. She loves art history and language.
And right now, she loves the promise of this festival.
“Just knowing people were excited about it meant a lot,” she said. “To see other students be excited for something I’d poured so much of myself into has been really incredible.”