It's lunch time at Pittsford Sutherland High School.
Senior Joame Lissad is chatting about classes with Taliah Williams and Danariean Giles of PUC Achieve Charter School. They share laughs and compare notes about science, math, and what they think their careers will be.
The three students are participating in ROC Kids Connect, a program that brings students from Sutherland and Pittsford Mendon High School together with students from Rochester so they can get to know each other and challenge any biases they may have about the other group.
“I thought that they were gonna be quiet and they wouldn’t want to talk to us,” said Yashara Brown of Rochester said about Pittsford students.
Megan Maher of Pittsford had her preconceived ideas about what city kids would be like. “I kind of had the stereotypical (image) of poor, didn’t have much, and that they didn’t really like school and they were just trying to get through it.”
Yashara and Megan both said it wasn't long before they realized those stereotypes weren't true. The sixteen Rochester and sixteen Pittsford students involved in the program talked about these impressions as a group and had a ceremonial removal of their biases.
You could say the desire to push past prejudice is one of the reasons ROC Kids Connect exists.
It was the idea of Mary Jane Milano and it came to her at one of the worst times of her life.
In 2007, her 14 year old son, Jeff Milano-Johnson died of a cerebral aneurysm during lacrosse warmups in Pittsford.
That same day, 16 year old Shamar Patterson was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting in Rochester. Jeff and Shamar spent their last hours on the same floor at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Mary Jane reached out to Shamar's mother, Joan Ros and in their grief, a friendship was born.
“I have lived a very long time and it was only recently that I had African American friends. That just amazes me because I have a number of friends. That was lacking in my life and I didn’t even know it was lacking.”
When Mary Jane was looking for a way to honor the lives of her son and Shamar Patterson, she thought a lot about the fact their coinciding deaths and their very different lives, spent just miles apart.
She formed ROC Kids Connect to make sure that geography or life circumstances wouldn't be a barrier to potential friendships between future generations of kids.
Students in the program not only spend some time at each other's schools, they do group activities like 3-D printing or a session on career options. Recently, they played on the same team in a kickball tournament.
“I think it’s really fun and I think it’s a good experience to try out, said Daron Clanton. “Instead of hanging out with the same friends every day, you get to meet new people and hang out with them.”
According to Michael Samuel, director of PUC Achieve Charter school, Daron's classmates all feel the same.
“Every day during the school year, the most popular question that I receive is, ‘Mr. Samuel, when are we going to see them again? When are we going back again? When is our next event?’ “
And Mary Jane Milano says hearing that helps her heal from the loss of her son.
“Tremendously. Because this is Jeff’s legacy. And this is Shamar’s legacy, too, for that matter. And that makes me feel really good.”