This year, our staff and students have been thinking a lot about acceptance and celebration of diversity. Our school community is made of many different kinds of diversity that help make the learning at 276 especially rich. In a book I have been reading recently, I came across a quote attributed to Paolo Freire. Freire was a Brazilian educator who worked tirelessly for social justice and change. As I reflect on the news from Orlando this week, and other current events this past school year, I found this quote very timely. Freire argued against ideas of school as a place where students are filled with knowledge that the teacher provides. Instead, he suggests that
- The purpose of education in an unjust society is to bring about equality and justice.
- Students must play an active part in the learning process.
- Teachers and students are both simultaneously learners and producers of knowledge.
This past school year, we have been putting some of these ideas into practice in some exciting and powerful ways. In November, the faculty spent a day with Border Crossers, an organization whose mission is fostering racial justice in education. A group of teachers also examined approaches to building respect for diversity into our curriculum. The work of the diversity inquiry group and our revision of curriculum to be more inclusive are examples of how teachers have been working to bring about themes of equality and justice to our learning community. Two of our middle school students also participated in the District 2 Leadership Council and, as a result, established a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) for our school. The GSA meets weekly during lunch to strategize how to help our school community be more accepting and supportive of all students. And, sadly, we have had to have conversations with students about frightening events in our world. Paris, Brussels, and Orlando are landmark conversations many of our students and teachers have had this school year.
The goal of our work around diversity is to help students build the skills and attitudes of working towards justice and equality. We are learning together about the gifts that diverse backgrounds, cultures, and world views bring to our community. As we respond to current events, it becomes more evident to me that the work of celebrating difference and learning to get along with a wide range of people is essential work of schooling.
In light of the recent tragic events in Orlando, we as a school community would like to come together for a day of peace. This week in our middle school advisory, teachers will be facilitating conversations with students to help them unpack their thoughts and feelings about what happened. In the lower grades, teachers will be having more open-ended conversations with students based upon what the children know and wonder about in contexts that are developmentally appropriate.
As educators, we believe it is important for young people to be able to take constructive action based upon what they feel and experience. We are organizing a day for peace on Monday, June 20th. We will be creating a ‘peace quilt’ across the sidewalks surrounding PS/IS276. Each class will design up to 4-5 squares demonstrating their understanding and beliefs around acceptance, inclusion, diversity and community.
To support this event, we are asking that families donate sidewalk chalk to their respective classes. We are also asking that, at dismissal, you use the pathway we’ll create to walk through and around our quilt and have conversations with your children about what they created.
We thank you in advance for your support of this event and of your children as they grow up in our complicated society.