A favorite piece of art hanging beside my desk is a small, bright canvas painted by a former student. Centered on the canvas is the famous quote often attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” surrounded by a multitude of colorful wax dots. This treasured gift, given at the end of the school year three years ago, is a daily reminder of why we do what we do at St. Francis School: We consistently strive to create a school community that embodies the change we wish to see in the world.
This week in the Lower and Middle Schools, our faculty, staff, and students have proven to be resilient, joyful, and caring for one another as in-person learning commenced for the first time since Friday, March 13th! Our first days back possessed much of the same joy and energy as a “regular” start to any school year, even though it is the last week in September! I saw so many sparkling eyes and heard so many warm hellos and comments like, “Oh my goodness! You’ve gotten so big!” or “Oh, how I’ve missed you!” Yet, there was also the sense that we are continuing along the journey we’ve always been on in regards to the School’s Mission and Core Values. Lead teachers, advisors, and classroom teachers continued to help students express their observations, thoughts, and emotions around the complexities of 2020. Our emphasis on our shared Core Values as a School, particularly Expression, Community, Thought, and Inclusivity, drives all of these conversations.
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work we do in Lower and Middle School is also rooted in these values. A bit about our DEI efforts in the Lower and Middle Schools: our DEI Director (and amazing Librarian) on the Goshen Campus, Lindsy Serrano, partners with our entire Lower and Middle School team to ensure that our DEI work is embedded into the curriculum and that our work with students is culturally responsive and inclusive. Lindsy partners with our Counselor, Julie Marks; with our Lower School Director, Jen Griffith; and with our Middle School Director, Zak Cohen, to ensure that the Lower School lead time activities and Middle School advisory times include space, time, and guidance on how to have difficult conversations with one another that keep respect for human dignity and compassion at the forefront of our work. Lindsy and Anne Holmes, our Humanities and Digital Literacy instructor, have worked to implement the Pollyanna Curriculum in Anne’s classes. As shared at our Lower School Back-to-School Night, Pollyanna is a “racial literacy curriculum designed to help students gain knowledge about race as it has been constructed in the United States and aims to help students acquire an awareness of their own racial socialization and skills for engaging in productive conversations about race and racism.” Lindsy also helps coordinate a team of affinity group leaders for our students. In the Middle School, we have the Black Students Association (BSA), Queer Students Association (QSA), and Culture Club that all keep student voice, inclusivity, and mutual support, respect, and trust at the center of their conversations with one another.
Anti-racist and anti-bias curriculum, instruction, and culture building is at the center of what Progressive schools have always sought to work toward. Whatever we want to build in the culture, we can begin to build and create in the schools. As the artwork in my office reminds me, 2020 calls us to be the change we wish to see in our world. We do so at St. Francis through how we work with our students and with one another each and every day: we practice resiliency; we listen with openness, curiosity, and empathy; we notice beauty; we practice perspective-taking; we think deeply; we engage in courageous and compassionate conversations; we offer mutual support; we play, laugh, and find joy in one another’s company; and we work to be of service to others with the goal of creating a more just and equitable world. Thank you for your continued partnership in building a better world with us and your students at St. Francis School!