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MIDDLE SCHOOL CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE

On the path to deeper learning.
During these incredibly unusual and complex first weeks of school, it has been comforting and energizing to hear the voices of middle schoolers wrestling with big questions. What is the theme of Langston Hughes' story, Thank You Ma'am? Does a jar of cookies meet the definition of a system? Does a classroom? What is the "Danger of a Single Story" described by author Chimamanda Adichie?
 
Middle Schoolers are doing hard work already, and are all the while also adapting to a new schedule, and forming new friendships and communities in their classrooms.
 

In addition to the investigations happening in math, science, humanities and art, students have been using their time in morning meeting to begin conversations about race that will continue all year. Some more detail about that is below. The middle school's diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives will also be the topic of our October "open" parent rep meeting, to which you are all invited. 
 
First, Sara-Momii Roberts, one of our eighth grade humanities teachers (and seventh grade parent) is this year's DEI Facilitator for the middle school. Our conversations about race, our continued review of the curriculum and our deepening commitment to affinity work is all being developed in partnership with her, with assistant principal Margaret Andrews and through the collective efforts of the whole middle school faculty. 
 
 
 
In advisories, students have already begun sharing and debriefing their “reading about race” summer assignment artifacts and experiences; this includes asking students how they might respond to someone who says “I’m tired of taking about racism” or “All lives matter.” We have been so impressed with the earnestness and the clarity of students comments about this. As some faculty members observed yesterday, this generation of students is in many ways more ready than the adults are to dive into this work. It’s one of many reasons to love middle schoolers.
 

In the next weeks, they are also embarking on a whole school read, with students in advisory, of This Book Is Antiracist by Tiffany Jewell, which provides a four part look at identity, personal and institutional racism, and working in solidarity against racism. Read this article by Tiffany Jewell, to get a taste of what your students will be discussing. 
 
A large part of our focus this year is on race-related identity work: We are continuing our racial affinity groups including Black Student Union, Asian Affinity Group, Latin X Affinity Group and our Mixed Race Affinity Group, alongside several affinity spaces that are not race based.  In January, we are also launching an initiative for students who identify as white to join white anti-racist caucus groups led by white faculty members.
 
At LREI 101 last night, PA co-president (and parent of two high schoolers) Maren Berthelsen spoke about the importance of making spaces for white people to grapple with race. She was talking about our anti-racist group for white parents, but her words apply equally to spaces for white students and with her permission, I've copied her remarks below:
 
“For anyone who is new to these kinds of groups, it can be really off-putting to hear that white people are gathering to talk about race. I always try to use as my touchstone a quote attributed to a group of aboriginal activists in Queensland, Australia, 'If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.' My feeling is that until we do our work with racism, too, by examining our own whiteness and reckoning with white supremacy culture, we cannot truly serve as the best allies to communities of color, and the people that we love within those communities in the world and at LREI.”

Finally, faculty will also engage in working groups throughout the year on restorative justice practices, like peace circles, and personal reviews of our curriculum using culturally responsive curriculum frameworks to help us see bias, who's being centered, who's missing, and how we reform units to be more inclusive. 
 
We are invigorated by these efforts. They will only enrich and deepen students experiences in each of their subject area classes and bring us closer to being the community we aspire to be.
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