By Lise McGilvery
The teenage years are some of the most difficult ones in a young person’s life. One local teen has spent her young adult life becoming a nexus–a bridge–of communication between teens and adults, and also between teens and their peers. Aurelie Clivaz, who moved to the San Lorenzo Valley in 1989, has shown both initiative and resilience in dealing with the problems that teenagers face, making life easier for them and for the adults raising them.
In her years at SLV High School, Aurelie’s strong interest revived the dying Cross-Age Mentoring Program, which trained and matched students with similar interests to be liaisons between the elementary, middle and high schools. Because of her, the program went from eight mentors to sixty-five within one month. The students would play games or sports together and take walks in Fall Creek Park. The mentor would also discuss bullying and help the students with their homework. In addition, to help deal with problems students face in school, Aurelie directed a workshop between students, teachers, and administrators so they could communicate effectively in a neutral environment.
Meanwhile, in order to deal with other authority figures, Aurelie helped set up a more ambitious workshop between students and the law. In this workshop, a student acted the part of the police officer, and the officer pretended to be a student. Participants watching could add their opinion to the role-playing by placing their hand on the shoulder of the person they wanted to speak for. Both police and teens learned a lot about how each perceives the other. One officer told Aurelie that he’d never been exposed to young peoples’ perspective before, and that he saw how police could appear threatening to teenagers. He said that he’d thought he was being respectful, but that this would alter how he approached young people.
Part of a poem Aurelie wrote expressing the philosophy of this workshop: “I would love to hear what you have to say/ Want to see that you are really seen/ Not just labeled as a teen/ Someone who sees you/ For who you really are/ Beyond all the scars . . .”
To improve her peer student skills, Aurelie attended a number of intensive workshops like Challenge Day, which helped young people reevaluate their beliefs to recognize how similar we all are. A memorable experience was when the facilitator asked each person to walk up to someone they normally wouldn’t consider approaching based on their looks, and give her a hug. At the end of the day, each student spoke with the same person about our tendency to rely on stereotypes to judge others. Other workshops, including the National Teen Leadership Program, helped young people learn professional skills, how to identify one’s weaknesses and strengths, and emphasized individual actions to help end social alienation. “They made you think twice about what you thought you already knew,” said Aurelie.
Aurelie’s interests tied into this work. Aurilie became known locally for her fire-dancing in the streets of Boulder Creek. She gives lessons in this ancient Polynesian art, called Poi, giving people the opportunity to enjoy crafting art with their bodies while having fun exercising. Giving lessons and practicing Poi herself helped Aurelie sort through the hardships of her own teen years. In order to better understand herself and that which inspired her, she wrote an essay describing how she’d decided not to be a victim, but rather to live a full life. It begins, “In a world with weapons of mass destruction and starving children, it is hard to have hope. Yet in the twinkle of a person’s eye, in the laughter of children, in the brilliance of a setting sun upon a vast sea, I feel that life is worth fighting for . . . Education will help me focus my dream on how to facilitate change in the best way I can.”
With this in mind, and the skills she learned from the workshops and SLV High’s goals for graduates “to improve the quality of life in school and the community and demonstrate skills in resolving conflicts through positive non-violent actions,” Aurelie designed and facilitated two workshops called A Conscious Journey. They examined “deeply embedded cultural assumptions leading to prejudice and discrimination and focused on how body language, tone of voice and attitude affect how we are perceived and how we perceive the world.”
She uses this in her current job as a crisis counselor in Northern California that focuses on risk prevention. She guides anger management, youth suicide and women’s support groups. They discuss help for depression and drug use, and Aurelie works as a liaison between young people and authority figures in the community. She also teaches classes in hip-hop, break dancing, and Capoeria, an ancient Brazilian martial art, and has an innovational job which enables her to go to any school or anywhere in the community targeting the most vulnerable in the community– at-risk and homeless youth who are the least likely to take advantage of the services offered.
Working through her own issues as a teen, Aurelie found significant help by becoming involved in innovative programs available locally; this has led to a career and a positive outlook on life. Now, even though the subjects in some of her classes tend to be depressing, when one women’s support group was asked to describe their overall impression of the class in one word; nine out of twelve of them answered, “Fun.” We can be proud of our local teens, and Aurelie is an excellent example of that.