How are we going to integrate our newest students to the Middle School? How will students and teachers get to know each other before the year begins? How do we build a trusting relationship between peers and between peers and teachers when they can’t meet each other in person?
The first two questions are ones we ask ourselves every summer. The third question was one we had never dealt with before and was at the forefront of all of our minds all summer long. Integrating new students into school, establishing strong peer connections, and teacher-student relationships is a critical part of the first week of school. Without this critical social-emotional piece, learning just doesn’t happen in the way it should.
For the last several years the Middle School has run an orientation week, which we affectionately call Lion Pride Week, during the first week of school. We do this because we know that transitioning back to school after a long summer break comes with its own challenges even in a typical year. As educators the move to distance learning has forced us to think even more deliberately about our instructional practice. With the need to refine our focus and reimagine what this looks like in 2020, our Orientation Implementation Committee took the concept and created an exceptional Lion Pride Week for our students and faculty to ease the transition into an unprecedented school year. Lion Pride Week focused on our students’ social-emotional needs while providing some basic training in aspects of distance learning.
In addition, we saw this as an opportunity to begin the year with an emphasis on our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Each student practiced an asynchronous work assignment that focused on Race and Equity. Each grade’s focus aligned with our grade wide themes and foreshadowed some of the thematic learning that will come this year. In 6th grade where we study identity, students learned about the life and accomplishments of John Lewis and his fight for equal rights for African Americans in the late 20th century. 7th grade students explore the concept of community and the structures that can build or undo a community. For their assignment, they focused on Jews of Color in our Community and were asked to reflect on the question, “How might we create a more welcoming Jewish community at our school so groups of Jews who don’t feel heard or seen can express those grievances?” In 8th grade, we emphasize leadership and taking action. In preparation for the deep learning they will do on race and membership, civil rights, leadership, and social justice this year, 8th graders studied Fanny Lou Hamer and the leadership role she played in fighting for voting rights.
It is no secret that the year 2020 has been anything but challenging for people across the globe. Because of the pandemic society at all levels, including family units, have had to reimagine how to function, live, and simply feel human. The intentionality of our Lion Pride Week allowed students the space to practice what it means to be in school in distance learning, meet peers and faculty, move through their schedule, familiarize themselves with different tech platforms they will use in their courses, and begin building their troubleshooting toolbox for when challenges arise. In the midst of it all, they understood that even when we are focused on our own challenges, we still take time to reflect on how we can learn from others, both past and present, to create an even more inclusive and respectful community.
If I’ve learned anything from this time, it is that our community is resilient, tenacious, persistent, dedicated, and reliable. Our students are warm, talented, budding scholars, strong, and eager to participate in global conversations. Although 2020 has been and will likely continue to be challenging, 2020 has also given all of us opportunity after opportunity to lean into discomfort, to develop resilience in the face of adversity, and to continue refining our practices.
May this year be a blessing for all and may each of you be sealed in the book of life.
גמר חתימה טובה ושנה טובה