Peace and Social Justice Day 2018 celebrates student voice

"Our theme for this PSJ Day is Listen Up, Speak Up, Stand Up: Using your voice to empower yourself and others," began US4 student Will M. as he introduced the theme for this year's annual Peace and Social Justice Day at its opening ceremony. "What want this day to be about is you learning how you can create change and help other to create change as well."

Student voice was certainly on full display from the day's opening moments, with Will and his fellow Student Diversity Leadership Council (SDLC) classmates — Celene A., Otto D., Sydney F., Riley H., Ella W., and Lennox W. — presiding over an all-school gathering that celebrated and displayed some of the manifold talents present on Mirman's campus. Whether through song, like US3 student and soloist Charlie B.; through dance, like many of our Upper School students who choreographed a beautiful display of pride flags; or through a rousing activism rap, like writer Remy E. (Rm 5) and her beatboxing companion Nate A. (US1), there was no shortage of ways to raise one's voice for the ideals of inclusivity, diversity, and social justice.
Held annually in the spring, Peace and Social Justice Day is a day organized through year-long preparation by the SDLC group and their advisor, Connie Chiu, with support from other administrators and faculty like Assistant to the Head of Upper School Brittani Fowlin and School Psychologist Dena Scott. The students attend the National Association of Independent Schools' Student Diversity Leadership Conference, learning facilitation skills, attending affinity groups to explore their social identifiers, and more — all in preparation to lead the daylong collection of workshops and activities.

After some closing remarks by Head of School Dan Vorenberg, who encouraged students to keep Mirman's Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Empathy, Discovery, and Resilience) in mind when engaging in deep and meaningful conversations around the issues raised during the day, the students dispersed to their workshop sessions. The workshops, which ranged in topic from stereotypes in the media to immigration policy to LGBTQ+ rights and beyond, and were tailored to be specifically age appropriate in both the Upper and Lower Schools, were led by the SDLC cohort, other interested Upper School students and alumni, and faculty members. The student-led workshops were all observed and assisted by assigned faculty and staff.
"It's been a pleasure to watch [Lennox W.'s] sessions and to walk around and enjoy some of the other offerings," said Upper School history teacher Jared Kerr. "It just is so great to see these seniors who I have known for four years really get to come into their own and teach their own lessons and really show off all they’ve learned from their Mirman experience."

From his perspective as a teacher of history, Mr. Kerr said that he found it particularly important to unpack and examine issues of social justice in days like PSJ Day "because we need to be a society that can attempt to get rid of injustice."

"I really hope that days like this can ensure that this generation is ready to lead the fight in that regard," he said.

After a first morning workshop session, students were able to step into another classroom to learn something different from their peers. During the transition, Upper Schoolers Katherine A. (US1) and Katherine C. (US2) compared possible workshop schedules and discussed what they'd learned in the first session during their Feminism and Gender Equality workshop co-taught by US3 students Charlie B. and Ava F. "The workshop was really fun, I think I learned a lot about women’s rights and different things that women cannot do that men can do and how people are going to change that," shared Katherine A.

"I’m looking forward to learning a lot of things I didn’t know before and participating in activities," said Katherine C. of her hopes for the rest of the day.

New this year and adding immeasurably valuable interaction as a community were three outdoor activity stations run by various faculty after the workshops. Upper School math teacher Alyssa Wray led students in a team building activity on the Central Lawn, turning a group of individuals into a connected human knot, while over on the Kotzubei Family Athletics Field, Coach Allen Foster led students through a trust course. For those wanting to get out of the day's hot sun, Jeffery Flagg was leading a showcase of US4's Project: Impact projects gallery-style in the Innovation Design lab. And in the amphitheater, art teacher Patter Hellstrom and her dedicated group of student artists were bringing their artistic vision to life on a grand scale as they painted a beautiful mural on a previously blank wall.

"I thought the mural was a really great, fun, community project that I wanted to work on, and this day is so important," said Upper School 3 student Sydne C. as she layered a coat of black paint to make a silhouette of a speaking face. "I’m also really happy to be participating in this mural because I can leave my mark on Mirman, to show I was here and show I was able to participate in this day, and really got into the spirit of it."

After a brief lunch break, the Upper Schoolers dispersed into LEAP and Advisory to further examine the issues they explored during the day. The SDLC crew then went down to the Lower School, where they led workshops for Kindergarten through Room 5. "I think I’ve enjoyed having a teacher's perspective," said Ella W. "It's not something I thought I would do. Teachers do a lot, and I now realize it!"

"It's an opportunity to understand what it's like to be a real leader," echoed Will M. as he, Ella, and the others enjoyed a well-deserved pizza break.

"I think the fact that eighth graders are able to design and facilitate and lead the entire day for our school community is rather remarkable. I don’t know a lot of middle schools that have the opportunity to do that," reflected Ms. Chiu when asked about the SDLC students' leadership roles. "After almost a whole school year, I can really see them grow and take ownership."

After the afternoon's workshops ended, the community gathered together again for the closing ceremony, which featured highlights from the day in the form of a slideshow, a time lapse of the nearly-completed mural, and reflections from the students and student leaders. "My favorite part of the day is being able to witness at the closing ceremony all the students come together and share what they learned in a fun way," reflected Ms. Fowlin.

The assembly ended with another beautiful performance by Charlie B., who was assisted by the ambiance created by hundreds of students lighting up the auditorium with LED lights.

Click below to watch the photo slideshow and experience some highlights from the day!
A Horse With No Name No More
from the 2018-2019 Meridian 

After the school rebranded a few years ago, Athletic Director Angela Brown felt that something was missing. While new uniforms were donned for the first day of school, new signs were hung around campus, and a new website launched to accompany refreshed marketing materials, the font-forward design left something to be desired when it came to truly raising team spirit to the power of Mirman. 

In a school where more than half of the student body participates in some form of competitive athletics, and on a campus where a significant expansion created pristine courts and fields upon which one can cheer on several teams on any given day, Brown saw opportunity and sensed desire to elevate the program. After working with Jenn Salcido, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Noah Kaufman, Director of Advancement, the school’s branding was expanded to include a strong, confident (though K-8-appropriate) steed. New universal uniforms, sweatsuits, and swag followed suit. 

“It’s a truly exciting time for athletics at Mirman,” said Brown. “It’s a sense of pride that you can see and feel. It’s almost like we’ve arrived. You could have taken a snapshot of the students in their old uniforms, and then with their new ones with the names on the back. It’s a rallying cry. You can see the pride on their faces.”  

Finally, everyone could don uniforms featuring their own names writ large. Everyone except, of course, the horse. Everyone knew we had a mascot — you’d see the nameless Mustang trotted out for the occasional assembly or championship bout — but nobody really knew the mascot. 

What if the community could help change that? 

Last fall, Brown and her colleagues in the Physical Education department introduced a contest at an all-school assembly. The objective: not only to name the Mustang, but to tell the mascot’s story. Over the course of a 6-day cycle, ballots were collected from every grade level in both divisions. With Salcido’s help, Brown and Assistant to the Athletic Director Alyssa Woods tallied the results. 

The judges carefully considered the entries, assessing them on an unwritten rubric including points for overall catchiness, gender-neutrality, universal appeal, and other considerations. As the dust settled, one clear winner emerged: Rider. In retrospect, it seemed rather obvious. The school had only recently unveiled its Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Discovery, Empathy, and Resilience). And as equine monikers go, Rider makes a certain degree of sense. The name was revealed with much aplomb at an all-school assembly, with Rider trotting out on stage to show off a newly-minted personalized jersey. 

The winning entry belonged to Room 4L students Victoria A. and Amelie S., who soon revealed that they had a little help from their friends, specifically former Room 4L co-teacher and current Librarian Allison Sparks. 

“We had just had a community circle in class talking about the Core Values,” said Sparks. “This was something new to me as a new member of the Mirman community. When I asked the class out loud if they’d considered Rider for the Mustang name, a few of the students wanted to suggest it.” 

“I laughed it off and dismissed the idea,” Sparks admitted. “I thought that since it had come from an adult, it wouldn’t count. But when I saw how excited they were when they submitted it, I knew the name rang true. It really came out of an ‘a ha’ moment we had together as a class. 

“It relates so much to our school and Core Values and helps us make sure we’re always doing the right thing,” said Victoria A. of the new name. 

“It’s amazing to be part of our school history,” added Amelie S. 

The two girls, who themselves represent Mirman on the basketball court and soccer fields as part of the Room 4 teams, admitted that, like many great ideas, their first iteration didn’t ring quite as true. “I think we wanted to do mustard,” said Victoria. 

“Or mayonnaise,” said Amelie. 

As it turns out, most things do get better with teamwork. 

Like any ballot box, this one was not without its curiosities once opened up. Here were a few of the voting trends: 
  • More than a few students wanted to name the Mustang after themselves or their classmates 
  • One entry suggested “Vegan” 
  • “Uncle Grandpa” popped up more than a few times, much to the confusion of one judge. It was revealed upon further investigation that this is in fact an affectionate nickname for Coach Allen Foster. 
  • Regarding “The Mysterious Moose:” decidedly not a horse, but good alliteration. 

A Biography of Rider 
By Victoria A. and Amelie S., Room 4L 
(with editorial assistance from an anonymous magazine editor) 
Once upon a time, a beautiful horse was born. He* shook himself and stood up, curious about the world around him. He began to walk through the forest, stopping every so often to grab some fruit from a tree. After a while, he came upon a group of two little girls and their teacher walking through the woods.

“Hi horse! What’s your name?” the little girl asked. 

“I don’t have a name, actually. What’s yours?” the horse answered. 

“Woah, I can actually understand you,” said the little girl. “That’s so cool!” 

The girls and their teacher spoke with the horse a while longer, introducing themselves and getting to know each other. They wondered aloud why the horse didn’t have a name. 

“I just haven’t thought of one yet,” he said. “I’ve only just been born!” 

The trio brainstormed about names for a while, but then got sidetracked with what they all wanted to be when they grew up. “Do you have any ideas,” asked the teacher?” 

“I want to be a head of school!” one of the girls said. “And my school will need to have Core Values, but I don’t know what those should be.” 

“Maybe I can help you,” volunteered the horse. 

“You need to have responsibility,” began the teacher. “And integrity.” 

“And empathy for other horses!” said the horse. 

“We’ll need to discover things along the way!” said the other girl. 

“And you’ll need some resilience,” the horse finished. 

Suddenly, the trio and the horse looked at one another. “How would you feel if we called you Rider in honor of those core values?” asked the teacher. 

By now, you know how this story ends — happily ever after, surrounded by the cheering crowds. 

*while Rider is a male horse in this story, we know from his biographers that he really can be any gender! Everyone can and should be able to identify with Rider. 
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