On Wednesday, May 17, the day began with excitement as students started to file in to the Jacquelyn Michelle Ross Auditorium for the weekly assembly. But this was no ordinary assembly: This was the Opening Ceremony for Mirman's third annual Peace and Social Justice Day (PSJ). With many students wearing t-shirts emblazoned with peace signs, tie-dye, hearts, slogans, and other representations peace and social justice spirit wear, the atmosphere felt celebratory, even as the community gathered together to face what can be a tough topic.
To kick off the assembly, Head of School Dan Vorenberg made some remarks about the importance of peace and social justice work in the Mirman community and beyond, reflecting on the lofty goals promised in the Declaration of Independence as well as the struggle of courageous activists to help make those goals a reality. "To lead this form of activism displays the highest form of character and leadership," he said of the SDLC cohort and the peers, faculty, and staff who assisted them in planning the day. More important than any individual award or grade, it is the desire to make a difference. I applaud these students for taking leadership here."
Following Vorenberg's remarks, the SDLC students organized an enlightening movement activity designed to provoke questions and challenge assumptions about social identifiers. First, while the Lower School was still in attendance, students raised their hands if they identified with certain statements; this was followed by a smaller gathering of Upper School and faculty/staff who were challenged to explore some of the same notions.
Students were asked to take a step inside the circle if they identified, for example, with one particular race. Some identifiers had to do with ability, others about socioeconomic status, and others still about religious celebrations. The activity was silent, with those inside and outside the circle instructed to reflect upon who was left on the edges and who was clustered in the middle. Afterwards, participants answered some guided questions from the student leaders.
"These questions raised a lot of emotions for me," shared US1 student Naalah C.
"I think we did this to learn more about our community, our friends, our school, and each other," observed US1 student Charlotte N.
Following the opening exercises, Upper School students dispersed to the workshops that they'd signed up for via the LEAP system. From challenging gender stereotypes to examining Islamophobia, Upper Schoolers enjoyed student-led discussions and activities that asked them to ponder some deep questions and engage in meaningful exchange, all around the themes of peace and social justice. A few faculty and staff members stepped in to led workshops as well, though by all accounts, the students were the stars of the show!
Following a panel discussion in the Upper School, Lower School workshops took place in the afternoon, with many Upper School workshops being re-tooled in a developmentally appropriate way to address some of the same issues with the younger grades.
"This was truly an impressive event for the whole Mirman community, especially since it really demonstrated the leadership of our US4 students and their ability to bring us all together, both young and old, students and faculty," said Director of Inclusivity and Equity Connie Chiu. "Seeing Upper School students dialogue and debate each other in constructive and healthy ways on complex topics around identity speaks volumes to the growth in students, especially in the social-emotional learning and inclusivity domains."
Following the day of workshops, the community gathered once again for a closing assembly in which Mr. Vorenberg applauded all the hard work that took place over the day. "But your work is not done," he said, encouraging all students, faculty, and staff to truly integrate the messages and lessons from PSJ into the classroom and beyond in their daily lives.
A panel of students gathered to share some of what they learned throughout the day, highlighting conversations on immigration, poverty, and more. Much as a Faculty/Student Q&A panel held in the Upper School showed a great deal of understanding and curiosity on these topics, this student-centered share out left all in attendance with the feeling that can only come from a day of teaching, learning, and living together with a common goal.
"I'm incredibly proud of the humor, positivity, and energy that SDLC students (and all involved faculty/staff) used in pulling off this conference day that highlighted the multiple perspectives and voices that make up our community," shared Ms. Chiu after the event.