Principals Perspective (November 2022) - Dr. Lisa Vardi
Dr. Lisa Vardi

Enriching Students Understanding and Appreciation of Diversity

On October 14, 2022, 19 CESJDS student-leaders, 6 HS faculty, and 2 administrators (Rabbi Malkus and I) traveled to Bishop McNamara High School (BMHS), a coed, independent Catholic high school, in Forestville, MD. This full day visit kicked off what we hope will be a long and meaningful partnership with the school. What a smashing success and extraordinary learning experience it was for all involved! 

The goal of the CESJDS-BMHS partnership is to enrich students’ “understanding and appreciation of diversity so they are better prepared to contribute meaningfully to the diverse world in which we live,'' a clear aim stated in the CESJDS Diversity Statement adopted by the school in March 2016. The statement urges us to engage in this work as part of the “School’s core values of K’dushah (Holiness), V’ahavta L’rei-akha (Loving your Neighbor), K’hillah (Community), and pluralism.” 

CESJDS also adopted a DEIJ Learning Framework to guide our work. To achieve these learning outcomes for our students, we must provide them with real world opportunities to engage with individuals who come from different backgrounds. HS DEIJ Coordinator and Photography Teacher, Deb Dilworth, a participant on the trip shared, “as a child I longed to know the Catholic School kids down the street from my school. It never happened as a school event, but some of my best friends today are from that school. Seeing students from CESJDS and BMHS interact in a positive and creative way, brought tears to my eyes! This type of diverse community can produce future leaders that understand inclusive ideas.”

Upon our return to CESJDS from BMHS, we collected individual reflections from all participants involved. Students shared:

  • “I was able to learn about the cultural and religious backgrounds of many of my peers and got a new look into the lives of people very different from myself…In addition to the differences, I also found people with common interests and values. I made friends with members of the string orchestra and the dance teams.”
  • “You don't have to try hard to get to know people of other backgrounds and religions. All you have to do is put yourself in situations when you're with other people and broaden your horizons and the bonding will happen naturally.”
  • “I loved the African dance class because it showed me how they loved their culture through dance and music. I had never seen an African dance class/performance ever so I loved watching them drum, dance, and see our reactions. When they asked me to dance I was nervous but they were so happy to teach me. It helped me feel at ease and feel comfortable doing something that I had never interacted with before.”
  • “I was exposed to both the differences and the similarities between our two religions and overall communities. I definitely noticed our schools and cultures had a lot of shared values I hadn't realized. In terms of differences, I think that we communicated our differences to each other and talked about them, which bridges us closer together.”
  • “I don't typically have the chance to speak with people of both another race and religion. I felt that we got to have productive conversations where we got to know each other on a personal level and on a religious level. Many of these people said that they had never met a Jew before and knew next to nothing about Jewish traditions and customs. Part of our role there is to introduce them to our community. Especially since we've seen a recent spike in anti-Semitism in our country, I think it's important to have these conversations and show them that we are similar more than we are different.”

How do we keep the momentum going from this inaugural partnership visit? We have identified some clear ways we will move forward and allow more members of our CESJDS community to benefit from this partnership:

  • We will host a BMHS delegation on our campus in early 2023.
  • The schools will participate in a joint community service project in the coming months.
  • We will encourage our faculty to work with individual BMHS faculty to plan joint lessons and classroom exchanges.
  • We will plan an off-campus excursion for CESJDS and BMHS student-leaders in the late spring.

DEIJ learning in the High School goes far beyond the CESJDS-BMHS partnership. We are continuously evaluating our curriculum to ensure our students are exposed to diverse perspectives and the lived experiences of others. We encourage our students to speak out against social injustice and anti-semitism and provide them with forums, such as The Lion’s Tale with free speech protections, to do so. We teach them in both their General and Judaic Studies classes how to actively engage in the world through Jewish values (CESJDS VIsion Statement) and take action to confront bias and injustice. We teach them to take pride in their Jewish identities and to be curious about others. As one student on the trip shared, “(A takeaway for me was) how much we know about ourselves and how much we got to know by reflecting on ourselves.”