Peace and Social Justice Day 2018 celebrates student voice
"Our theme for this PSJ Day is Listen Up, Speak Up, Stand Up: Using your voice to empower yourself and others," began US4 student Will M. as he introduced the theme for this year's annual Peace and Social Justice Day at its opening ceremony. "What want this day to be about is you learning how you can create change and help other to create change as well."
Student voice was certainly on full display from the day's opening moments, with Will and his fellow Student Diversity Leadership Council (SDLC) classmates — Celene A., Otto D., Sydney F., Riley H., Ella W., and Lennox W. — presiding over an all-school gathering that celebrated and displayed some of the manifold talents present on Mirman's campus. Whether through song, like US3 student and soloist Charlie B.; through dance, like many of our Upper School students who choreographed a beautiful display of pride flags; or through a rousing activism rap, like writer Remy E. (Rm 5) and her beatboxing companion Nate A. (US1), there was no shortage of ways to raise one's voice for the ideals of inclusivity, diversity, and social justice.
Held annually in the spring, Peace and Social Justice Day is a day organized through year-long preparation by the SDLC group and their advisor, Connie Chiu, with support from other administrators and faculty like Assistant to the Head of Upper School Brittani Fowlin and School Psychologist Dena Scott. The students attend the National Association of Independent Schools' Student Diversity Leadership Conference, learning facilitation skills, attending affinity groups to explore their social identifiers, and more — all in preparation to lead the daylong collection of workshops and activities.
After some closing remarks by Head of School Dan Vorenberg, who encouraged students to keep Mirman's Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Empathy, Discovery, and Resilience) in mind when engaging in deep and meaningful conversations around the issues raised during the day, the students dispersed to their workshop sessions. The workshops, which ranged in topic from stereotypes in the media to immigration policy to LGBTQ+ rights and beyond, and were tailored to be specifically age appropriate in both the Upper and Lower Schools, were led by the SDLC cohort, other interested Upper School students and alumni, and faculty members. The student-led workshops were all observed and assisted by assigned faculty and staff.
"It's been a pleasure to watch [Lennox W.'s] sessions and to walk around and enjoy some of the other offerings," said Upper School history teacher Jared Kerr. "It just is so great to see these seniors who I have known for four years really get to come into their own and teach their own lessons and really show off all they’ve learned from their Mirman experience."
From his perspective as a teacher of history, Mr. Kerr said that he found it particularly important to unpack and examine issues of social justice in days like PSJ Day "because we need to be a society that can attempt to get rid of injustice."
"I really hope that days like this can ensure that this generation is ready to lead the fight in that regard," he said.
After a first morning workshop session, students were able to step into another classroom to learn something different from their peers. During the transition, Upper Schoolers Katherine A. (US1) and Katherine C. (US2) compared possible workshop schedules and discussed what they'd learned in the first session during their Feminism and Gender Equality workshop co-taught by US3 students Charlie B. and Ava F. "The workshop was really fun, I think I learned a lot about women’s rights and different things that women cannot do that men can do and how people are going to change that," shared Katherine A.
"I’m looking forward to learning a lot of things I didn’t know before and participating in activities," said Katherine C. of her hopes for the rest of the day.
New this year and adding immeasurably valuable interaction as a community were three outdoor activity stations run by various faculty after the workshops. Upper School math teacher Alyssa Wray led students in a team building activity on the Central Lawn, turning a group of individuals into a connected human knot, while over on the Kotzubei Family Athletics Field, Coach Allen Foster led students through a trust course. For those wanting to get out of the day's hot sun, Jeffery Flagg was leading a showcase of US4's Project: Impact projects gallery-style in the Innovation Design lab. And in the amphitheater, art teacher Patter Hellstrom and her dedicated group of student artists were bringing their artistic vision to life on a grand scale as they painted a beautiful mural on a previously blank wall.
"I thought the mural was a really great, fun, community project that I wanted to work on, and this day is so important," said Upper School 3 student Sydne C. as she layered a coat of black paint to make a silhouette of a speaking face. "I’m also really happy to be participating in this mural because I can leave my mark on Mirman, to show I was here and show I was able to participate in this day, and really got into the spirit of it."
After a brief lunch break, the Upper Schoolers dispersed into LEAP and Advisory to further examine the issues they explored during the day. The SDLC crew then went down to the Lower School, where they led workshops for Kindergarten through Room 5. "I think I’ve enjoyed having a teacher's perspective," said Ella W. "It's not something I thought I would do. Teachers do a lot, and I now realize it!"
"It's an opportunity to understand what it's like to be a real leader," echoed Will M. as he, Ella, and the others enjoyed a well-deserved pizza break.
"I think the fact that eighth graders are able to design and facilitate and lead the entire day for our school community is rather remarkable. I don’t know a lot of middle schools that have the opportunity to do that," reflected Ms. Chiu when asked about the SDLC students' leadership roles. "After almost a whole school year, I can really see them grow and take ownership."
After the afternoon's workshops ended, the community gathered together again for the closing ceremony, which featured highlights from the day in the form of a slideshow, a time lapse of the nearly-completed mural, and reflections from the students and student leaders. "My favorite part of the day is being able to witness at the closing ceremony all the students come together and share what they learned in a fun way," reflected Ms. Fowlin.
The assembly ended with another beautiful performance by Charlie B., who was assisted by the ambiance created by hundreds of students lighting up the auditorium with LED lights.
Click below to watch the photo slideshow and experience some highlights from the day!