Learning About Diversity

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The Masks We Live In

How can we as a school help our younger students learn about diversity and the world we live in? During recent diversity workshops for lower school students, younger students participated in a discussion about “boy and girl colors” and heard Pug, a Dog, an original story by Melinda Van Lare. First through fifth grade students attended age-appropriate workshops about gender identity, bullying, racial identity, socioeconomic class and wealth distribution, feminism and sexism, media and toy representations of human figures, and cultures of various countries.

LSDiversityWorkshops021016 - 38 copy.jpgThe workshops also served as an important opportunity for students and teachers from different grades and classrooms across the lower school to connect with one another.

Highlights from the workshops included:

The Skin You Live In – Using the book The Skin You Live In, students learned more about the biology of skin color. They explored the purpose of skin, how it looks and feels, and the similarities and differences between all skin types and colors. Afterwards the children mixed their own paint color and came up with a name to match their skin tone – such as light peach, mine stone, dark tan, and tan-o-man.

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A Toy Like Me: Seeing Yourself in the Toys You Play With – Using a story about mothers in the UK who decided to design dolls that reflected their children’s physical diversity, students were given the opportunity to consider the importance of seeing oneself in the toys we play with. Students then brainstormed how physical differences should be represented in toys and wrote letters to toy companies with their ideas!

The Masks We Live In – Students unpacked the social constructs of patriarchy, sexism, and feminism. Confronting the impact of sexist and over-masculinizing media messages in society, students were challenged to think critically about the masks we all wear relating to gender roles. Students then painted masks representing their societal exterior and personal interior. These masks were displayed outside the fourth grade classroom.

LSDiversityWorkshops021016 - 34Other workshops included reading Red: A Crayon’s Story, My Princess Boy, having a party in which food was divided up like U.S. wealth, learning how to support others against bullies, understanding what it means to be transgendered, and a discussion on multiracialism. Students also discussed the tradition of breads in different cultures while making their own butter, and learned several dances and songs from around the world.

The scoop on college life, straight from the source

By Julia Baker, Associate Director of College Counseling

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Julia Baker

As a college counselor, my days are filled with helping students apply to college. At times, it feels like students, parents, and counselors are so focused on “getting in” that all of us forget to pause and ask the more important question, “What happens after I get there?”

MB’s College Counseling office attempted to demystify post-college application life this January when we hosted a panel of MB alumni now in college. Current MB juniors and seniors were invited to attend an informal discussion led by five recent MB grads: Josh Jaspers, Jake Slovin, Megan Fantes, and Jennifer Tudino from the Class of 2014 and Claudia Marzec from the Class of 2015.

The panelists were eager to reflect upon their college search, offer advice about the transition to campus life, and answer questions from students in the audience: seniors who are heading to college in the fall, and juniors about to embark upon the college process. Topics ranged from the more serious, like how academic advising works?, to the more lighthearted: how to choose a roommate? (Most students agree that it is better to be randomly assigned!)

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Megan Fantes ’14 (Boston University), Jake Slovin ’14 (Hamilton College), Claudia Marzec ’15 (Saint Francis University), Jennifer Tudino ’14 (URI), Josh Jaspers ’14 (University of Virginia).

Alumni on the panel hailed from a wide-range of institutions, each bringing a unique perspective they were excited to discuss. Jennifer Tudino, a sophomore in the College of Pharmacy at URI, talked about the tough but wise decision to take organic chemistry over the summer to lighten her load during the school year.  Megan Fantes, a student in her second year at Boston University, talked about visiting the BU campus as an accepted student and immediately knowing it was “the one.” Jake Slovin, who is at Hamilton College, spoke about being accepted for the spring term and spending his first semester in London. A sophomore at the University of Virginia, Josh Jaspers gave advice on how to get involved in campus life at a large public university. Among other activities, Josh gives historical tours of UVA’s campus. Claudia Marzec discussed the athletic recruitment process that brought her to Saint Francis University, one of the few colleges that allows her to be a varsity athlete in field hockey and study physical therapy as a first year student.

Though each of the five panelists had a different path to college and a different experience once they got there, they shared a commonality:  the preparedness provided by MB. Every student on the panel spoke about the time-management, writing, and speaking skills ingrained in them during their MB years which helped ease the transition to college life.

Sofia D., a senior in the audience, found the panel to be a good use of time as she prepares to head to college in the fall. “I really enjoyed the panelists because the decision on attending a college or university is a large choice and sometimes it is reassuring to hear students who will speak about the reality of college life. By having past students talk about their experiences, it makes the thought process about making the big jump to college student much easier to visualize.”

I sometimes joke with my counselees that I became a college counselor because I never wanted to leave college. I also often tell students that one of my favorite parts of my job is reconnecting with former students, particularly those who ended up at a college where they did not initially see themselves. But while I could go on for hours imparting my own wisdom on college life (based on experiences that are, ahem, more than a decade old), I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that in in order for students to truly listen, some of the best advice comes straight from the source.

It seems like the panelists know this too, which is why they were glad to help. Perhaps Jennifer Tudino said it best when she responded to my invitation to serve on the panel. “I love talking to students applying to college about how I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and ended up at the one place I thought I’d never be and really love it. When they hear that from a college counselor they are all like, ‘Yeah sure, you’re paid to say that,’ but it truly is a reality coming from me.”

(Julia, along with Helen Montague, Annie Reznik, and Jill Stockman, comprise the Moses Brown College Counseling Office.)

What do a slinky, a paper clip, a stuffed animal, and a magnifying glass have to do with diversity work?

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By Abby Phyfe, US English In October 2015, Liza Talusan, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at The Park School, led diversity workshops for the entire Moses Brown ninth grade class. The class split into two groups, attending her workshop and … Continue reading

Positive Parenting

By Emma Lisa Lesica P ’18 ’19

Reflecting on a workshop held by Dr Julia Trebing on January 14, 2016

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Dr. Trebing

Collaboratively co-sponsored by the Parents Association, Lower School Administration, and Office of Admissions – January 14, 2016

To a well-attended gathering of some 60 lower school parents and prospective parents, Dr. Julia Trebing spoke for 75 minutes on the subject of Positive Parenting. Weaving humor, thirty years of experience, and established research, she spoke to the challenges of raising our children with the awareness that development of their emotional intelligence is as important as that of their intellect. Praising the wide-ranging benefits of creative and imaginative play, she educated us on the harmful aspects of screen time at an early age and before sleep, the premature drive for academic and athletic achievement, and provided watch-outs for what our children consume and the critical awareness of the impact our actions as parents and role models have on our young ones. How we speak to them, resolve conflict, behave in our daily lives and develop expectations of them, especially at critical passages of development such as during the ‘cutting of the teeth’ and the nine year crisis – all have impact on their psyche. Her messages of patience, allowing our children to grow into happy well-adjusted individuals, and supporting their emotional intelligence through our positive parenting and parental decisions, was well-received and inspiring.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Trebing worked individually with each of the lower school grades on the concept of social inclusion by way of group activities appropriate to their age and level of development. She also held a workshop for LS faculty and staff in support of the same message and the role educators play in the development of emotional intelligence.

In all, her work hopefully left thought-provoking and inspiring messages about social inclusion and emotional intelligence for the students, faculty, and parents to support the already deeply caring environment of Moses Brown’s lower school community.

Find out more at Creative Therapies.

Breeding respect, unlearning bigotry, and deflating stereotypes

By David Wasser, middle school teacherWasser_sm

Fifty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passage of the first significant Civil Rights legislation in this country, we find ourselves again struggling against the pernicious forces of prejudice and discrimination. Not that prejudice and discrimination had ever gone away; but the past several years have brought us a string of particularly tragic and ugly reminders of what happens when our biases and stereotypes manifest themselves in our actions and behaviors.

The list of black men, women, and children who have died at the hands of law enforcement personnel just in the last two years is beyond disheartening. It is a national shame.

In the political discourse of this new election cycle, we see how easily and successfully some are able to invoke vile stereotypes to stoke and exploit the fears of millions of our fellow citizens. It is frightening to see just how small is the distance between a rally and a lynch mob, and how thin is the veneer that separates an advanced cosmopolitan civilization from one that is primitive and tribalistic.

Where have we gone wrong? How could it be that our annual commemoration of lofty

Martin-Luther-King-Jrwords and deeds has not innoculated us against the disease of bigotry? Where is the Promised Land that Dr. King claimed to see?

If my experiences have taught me anything, it is that the only effective way to combat prejudice and stereotypical thinking is personal contact with people from all variety of backgrounds. Bringing people together with others who are different from them – not just to sit and politely listen to a speaker – but to really live together, eat together, pray together, sing together, learn together, and work together, is the most effective antidote to the spread of stereotypical thinking.

I am forever grateful for having been born into a family that values travel and the cultural enlightenment that it makes possible. As a teenager, I was given the opportunity to visit Israel, where I lived and worked in a kibbutz. There I got to meet not only young Israelis of my age, but also young people from all over Europe, and many other countries. We studied Hebrew, worked milking cows and picking fruit, went sightseeing together, and celebrated every Friday night in the bombshelter-cum-discotheque. This sojourn led to a whirlwind tour of Europe, including a visit to France, where the warmth and kindness of every stranger I met blew my previous image of the French out of the water! A few years later on, I jumped at the chance to trek with a couple of college friends from Casablanca, Morocco along the southern Mediterranean coast to Algeria, then south and across the Sahara on the back of an open truck, and on into the West African nation of Mali. From Mali, I went and spent some time in Egypt before heading north to visit my old friends in Israel.

In every place I visited – despite cultural and linguistic barriers, despite different ways of doing things, despite different views of how society should be organized and governed – I found people who were friendly, generous, welcoming, curious, and intelligent. I found people who loved and believed in their way of living, and those who wanted to make a change. I discovered that what I thought I knew about certain places and people just didn’t fit the reality I was seeing. I realized that a stereotype is a just a two-dimensional representation of creatures that are multidimensional! I learned, also, that getting to know a person face-to-face is an experience a thousand times richer and more satisfying than hearing about a person through a second-hand account.

So how does this kind of personal connection with people who are different from oneself work to counteract the effects of negative stereotypes and generalizations? Speaking for myself, I know that whenever I hear or read something about a place I have visited and where I have friends, I have a different reaction than when I hear about people or places where I have no connection. In the former case, I think of the people I know and see their faces in my mind. I compare what I am being told with what I know, and I am therefore able to evaluate more critically the information being given. In the latter case, however, I lack the same frame of reference. I am much more at the mercy of whoever’s perspective is being shown to me, and all I have are the stereotypes I have picked up with which to assess the validity of the claims being made.

At MB, this truth is recognized and acknowledged through the TRIPs program. Students of the 21st century are stepping into a world where “interconnected” has almost become a cliché. Our students will certainly be interacting with people from all around the world in their daily lives. To a great extent, they already do! They do not need to travel far across the globe to encounter different cultures and ways of thinking. We have incredible diversity all around us!

It will be essential, therefore, to our students’ success in this world that they get out and meet it face-to-face. They need to learn to identify and reject stereotypes encountered in the media, in stump speeches, in board rooms, and in casual conversations. This is not so simply for the moral and ethical reasons, which are certainly sufficient; but also for practical reasons. Decisions and actions that are based on stereotypes – rather than a deep understanding of history, culture, values, and beliefs – are, at best, less efficacious; at worst, life-threatening.

Giving students the opportunity to travel, experience, and build authentic connections with people from all walks of life enables them to develop a clearer, more accurate, more nuanced picture of the world, and prepares them to fill the ethical leadership roles we so urgently need.