Events honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were held at Nueva’s Middle School and Upper School last week. Through purposeful programs including assemblies, panel discussions, advisory meetings, and workshops, student’s developed their understanding of the meaning of the word “solidarity” and explored ways to translate solidarity from an abstract concept into action.
Middle School Celebration
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Using powerful quotes from Dr. King and an audio recording of an excerpt of Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon recorded just two months before he was assassinated, Liza Raynal, Middle School Head, and Alegria Barclay, Social Justice Coordinator, introduced the day’s theme of Solidarity: Urgency and Action, and invited students to share their understanding. Middle School students defined the term and collectively brainstormed a list of groups of people in our nation that might be in need of our support right now. A panel of faculty members shared very personal experiences of times in their lives when they were in need or when they showed solidarity to someone else, expressing to students what this concept means in the lives of people close to them.
After these heartfelt stories, middle school students convened in their advisories to debrief and to work on an art project: creating individual bricks to be used to build a community wall of solidarity. Using the essential question, “How do I show solidarity?” students expressed themselves by covering their bricks in words, images, manifestos, symbols, and other artwork.
In closing, Alegria summarized their MLK Day observation by encouraging students to begin in support of one another, “We have everyone represented here in our beautiful community. We want everyone to see themselves, to let them know we see them, and know that we are in support of them, in solidarity with them. That is our message.”
Upper School Celebration
This is the third year that Nueva’s Upper School has dedicated a day to honoring the life of Dr. King, and as with the Middle School program, it’s design was direct and deliberate in its support of Nueva’s vision: The Nueva School uses a dynamic educational model to enable gifted students to learn how to make choices that will benefit the world.
Over the years, the Upper School MLK Day theme has grown from educating students about real-world events like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, to last year’s in-depth study of “intersectionality” which highlighted how we all experience the world through the lenses of our many intersecting identities—our gender, our race, our class, our ability, etc.
Nueva’s Social Justice faculty, Alegria Barclay and Alison Williams, as the primary planners of this year’s MLK Day observation, developed the agenda to build upon last year’s work, and to honor frequent requests of Upper School students interested in learning how to be more active in the world. To bring the theme of Solidarity: Urgency and Action to life, students spent the morning participating in a full school assembly. Early sessions were definitional and inwardly focused, and included discussion of the connection of intersectionality to MLK’s work including his “Drum Major” speech.
Next a panel of faculty and students each addressed the assembly, recounting a personal anecdote of solidarity. The intimate and personal way in which these panelists spoke to the assembly was powerful in illustrating real-life struggles of our own community members and what acts of support and solidarity look and feel like.
To engage and reflect on what they’d just heard, the students discussed their thoughts on provocative questions such as, “While listening to the panel, what challenged your assumptions or made you feel uncomfortable?” and “When conversations are uncomfortable around issues of identity or other difficulties, what should we do?” This discussion period was deeply emotional as participants were generous and vulnerable in sharing personal stories of struggles, needs, hopes, and dreams. While the school gym was filled with over three hundred students, faculty, and staff, this exercise was truly intimate; many were moved to tears and many more came forward to hug them, hold their hands, and stand with their friends and classmates.
Afterwards, many commented on how important it is to recognize that we cannot see the struggles of the person next to us. Stephanie Snyder, Science of Mind teacher, said, “We learned from this that there are stories that members of our community are holding tightly and we need to continue to create more spaces for them to share and be safe. The greatest part of this experience was that when members of our community were willing to tell their stories, it gave us the opportunity to reach out and support them, and it also gives us the ability to look forward and continue to build the community we want to be.”
After lunch, the work of the day shifted to action. Presented with a wide selection of topics students attended two workshops of interest to them. Each workshop provided both an educational component and practical possibilities for activism.
Mike Peller, Assistant Head of Upper School for Student Life and Director of Global Initiatives described the desire to use part of this day to discuss the issues in the national dialogue with our students, many of whom are active in diversity, social justice, and political science, and highly attuned to daily news. “We spent our morning connecting person to person which provided a strong framework of empathy to enable students to consider the needs of groups beyond our walls. We know our students are anxious to roll up their sleeves and to show up. Our afternoon workshops were the stepping stones to movements where they can bring their ingenuity, their excitement, and their caring.”
Alegria reflected on the day, “In the end, the goal was simply to inspire students to stand up for other people in their community in their time of need and to use their voice to uplift and amplify the voices of others.”
Upper School "Take Action" Workshops
- Immigrant Rights
- Arts and Activism
- Queer/Trans Justice
- Indigenous People's Rights
- Climate Justice
- Prisoners Literature Project
- Reproductive Justice
- Black Lives Matter
- Disability Rights
- Against Anti-semitism
January 27, 2017