I have been writing this letter in my head for some time now, but I did not want to get something out just for the sake of communicating quickly. This topic is so very serious, and I wanted to make sure that my thinking was respectful and thoughtful.
Watching the news over the past few months has been difficult, but recent events have been profoundly disturbing on so many levels. It is deeply troubling to see and hear the details surrounding the death of George Floyd. The tragic deaths of so many African American citizens that precede this event aggregate and present a picture that calls us to reflect deeply on what we can do to address racial inequity and systemic racism. The peaceful protests that have arisen have been a beacon for those wishing to exercise their right to speak freely as Americans and an opportunity to show our students how to raise awareness. I find myself reminded of the importance of creating a safe educational environment where our students, faculty, and staff support each other and encourage open-mindedness and the civil exchange of ideas and opinions. Our community is committed to educating students who understand the importance of listening to the voices of others. At every developmental level, even with our youngest students, this is critical, done in a manner appropriate for each age.
The visuals of violence and riots have been jarring and undoubtedly confusing for students who may be questioning this expression of anger and frustration. Thankfully, the vast majority of the protesters are peaceful, wishing to simply exercise their right to speak freely as Americans. The combined magnitude of these issues does three things for me:
- It gives me perspective and reinforces for me the importance of teaching our students to voice their opinions and stand up for what they believe in. It highlights the importance of listening and finding common ground for the purpose of understanding, respecting, peacefully coexisting, and knowing our responsibilities, individually and collectively, to effect change.
- It raises concerns about the impact on our students on what is happening in our wider world. These issues can be very difficult for young children to process, and even our youngest children will see visuals on the evening news or pick up on a parent’s concerned tone of voice or a worried look in their eyes. Our older children might be better informed, yet often, they lack the maturity to fully process what is happening and truly understand it. The social and emotional crisis our country is experiencing combined with the health and economic crisis we have been dealing with is a lot for parents, never mind children, to manage.
- It calls me to think about what we can do as a school, to help effect change. As a PS-8 school, we clearly need to think about how we approach different developmental levels, but one very small thing we can do, uniformly, is to make sure our faculty and staff become closer to these issues and deepen their understanding. Last summer, the leadership team read White Fragility, by Robin DeAngelo, and this summer it is our plan to have faculty and staff choose to read either Waking Up White by Debbie Irving or Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive Beginning of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi. This is thought-provoking literature and will offer us the opportunity to have some meaningful discussions on racism and social justice. Becoming more educated, as a community of adults who educate children, is a good place to start. I acknowledge it is a small start, but we will build on it.
I am sure that most RA/LPS families are having age-appropriate discussions about these situations at home, as this is typical of the sort of open communication our school community practices. I did want to offer several resources that can be helpful when looking for the most effective ways to have these discussions. I know I always need some guidance. The sites below offer clear, common-sense tips on how to talk with children about difficult subjects like these.
Understanding Race and Privilege
What Do We Tell Our Children?
How To Talk With Children About Racial Bias
A PARENT'S GUIDE to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice
We have more work to do. I look forward to sharing more with you as we take steps forward in this critical area. In the meantime, if you or your family could benefit from speaking with our school counselor Terry Williams, please do not hesitate to reach out via email.
Thanks so much. Be safe.
Head of School