“Everybody needs a heart,” said Emily Miller, at the start of the Middle School’s Windows and Mirrors Assembly. She was referring to the powerful exercise the students were about to begin, but her language spoke to the deeper meaning behind the day: building empathy and connections, school-wide.
As the Middle Schoolers filed into the MEW, they each received a pink, heart-shaped piece of paper, marked with another student’s anonymous answers. Earlier, the students responded to prompts such as: “I have teachers who look like me” or “I feel safe at school” or “I live with a single parent at home.” As Emily and Middle School Counselor Suzy Klein called out the questions, the students stood up if a response matched their paper. Along the way, they looked around, to see how many others were standing or who was left behind.
“We’re all holding someone’s heart in our hands,” said Emily, the Middle School Dean of Equity and Inclusion, reminding the students to watch closely and think about what sort of information was being represented in the room, in real time.
The mood remained serious and it was clear the students were learning something new about themselves and each other. “Though the day was really about community building,” said Assistant Head Kiki Felt, “The students also realized you can’t tell by looking at a person.”
After the assembly, middle schoolers met in their advising groups to debrief the experience. There they received their personal schedules for the day and transitioned to their first affinity group. “As a multiracial person I had the pleasure of witnessing kids share the challenges and joys of coming from a family with parents of different racial backgrounds,” said Emily Miller. “In our group students bonded on a variety of topics, from how uncomfortable it is to have part of your identity invisible to who has the cutest dog.”
“The second half of the day was about students coming together over a shared interest,” said Kiki Felt, “and then getting to be active participants in that culture or subject matter or craft.”
All students took two interactive workshops on a topic of personal interest. Some chose to play Mah Jong, for example, or tried their hand at challah baking. Others signed up for a lecture on Gay Rights as Civil Rights, or a screening of the documentary The Push, about the first athlete with a spinal cord injury athlete to push himself 100 miles in the South Pole. Others participated in a session called Stepping, the Cultural Expression of Percussive Dance.
All along the way, Professional Community members led the students in this important work, reminding them to stay engaged and to try and talk to people they don’t yet know. “This year I was pleased to see kids making connections across grade levels and friend groups which is key to building an inclusive community where all students feel seen,” said Emily Miller.
In her role as Middle School Dean of Equity and Inclusion, Emily was able to connect with the other affinity group facilitators and talk about how the day went with their students. “The teacher who led the anxiety affinity group heard a student say, "Finally! I haven't gotten to talk about this since last year!"-- a moment that serves as a reminder to us all that doing this work in affinity provides space to discuss parts of our identities that might not be seen, or shared, by the larger community. Or, to quote another middle schooler, “Windows and Mirrors was a good way to know that I’m not alone."
- Affinity Groups
- Windows and Mirrors