BridgeBuilder Helps School and Parent Groups Mend Fences

Former pastor holds workshops for educators, community leaders and residents.

By Nzong Xiong * The Fresno Bee

 

Former Visalia pastor Wayne Jacobsen has a simple solution to cultural, social and religious conflicts that sometimes pit school districts against parents: Communicate.

Since 1994, Jacobsen has presented his workshop, Common Ground Thinking, to school districts throughout California as well to districts in some neighboring states.

Sometimes he is asked to come in when a community is polarized by an issue such as religious freedom or sex education.

"It's always terrifying at the start," said Jacobsen, 46, "but by the end of it, people that were enemies are apologizing and are planning a common goal."

He also is asked to hold workshops for educators, community leaders and residents.

Jacobsen, president of an organization called BridgeBuilders, said he did not set out to be a mediator or peacemaker.

As a parent with children in the Visalia Unified School District, Jacobsen would sometimes plug into some of the conflicts that arose in the schools.

"The staff would have me trouble-shoot with difficulties that dealt with religion," he said. "This wasn't something I planned on doing."

The Common Ground Thinking workshop covers one or two days, with Jacobsen offering mediation. Participants can learn about historic court decisions that have affected public education and what they mean.

"There's not enough education of the laws," Jacobsen said. "Conflicts have been resolved in the courts, but not in the living rooms and schoolhouses of America."

More importantly, the workshop gives participants a chance to understand the opposing views, squash misperceptions and learn how to work with each other's differences, he said.

Jacobsen tries to avoid using loaded phrases such as tolerance, multiculturalism and sexual abstinence.

"It is part of the problem in communication," he said. "People use the same words but not with the same meaning."

The workshop aims to do five things:

Remove educators from arbitrating social conflicts.

Help people appreciate and apply religious neutrality.

Switch dialogue from "what I want for my child" to "what is fair for all children including mine."

Eliminate confusion, suspicion and anger generated by advocacy groups.

Recognize the priority of the family in faith and values.

What makes his workshops successful is that he has the right stuff, said people who have attended his sessions.

"He has a very open, personal style," said Marty Butt, associate professor in the doctoral program of educational leadership at the University of La Vern. "Wayne has a wonderful delivery and great content."

Butt has attended several of Jacobsen's workshops and invited him to hold sessions at the university and for board members of Standard School District in Bakersfield, where she was superintendent until about a year ago.

"I was always impressed by him," said Jim Vidak, Tulare County superintendent of schools, who formerly worked at Visalia Unified. "He was always fair in his thinking."

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THE DETAILS

Those who want more information about Wayne Jacobsen or Common Ground Thinking may contact Jacobsen at 805.988-4409 or visit bridge-builders.org on the World Wide Web.