"Creating an Inclusive Culture"
A Letter to SSLI Parents of 8th - 12th graders about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream came home this year - home to Schechter. Every year, the Upper School marks this important American holiday. This year's commemoration was particularly special and has the potential to unleash a revolution of sorts, and it certainly prompted personal reflection. Just one week ago, the HS Tzibur club hosted a MLK Jr. Day Symposium with the theme, "Creating an Inclusive Culture." As 12th grader Bella Doron told the student body, students in our school face different inclusion challenges than Martin Luther King, Jr. And, the culture at Schechter receives relatively high marks when compared to many other high schools. Yet, Martin Luther King Jr.'s work can inspire us to make important changes in how we perceive and interact with one another. Taking great pride in the fact that so many students feel at home at SSLI, the Tzibur club students nevertheless encouraged their peers to take stock of areas where each person can do better to ensure that all students consistently feel valued. The faculty empowered students to express their feelings and then to work on making the Schechter world a better place.
About a week before the program, every student was given the opportunity in English class to write about their experience with inclusion, or exclusion, at Schechter. On the day of the event, students in grades 8 - 12 sat in a tight-knit semi-circle in the gym. After a brief introduction from Tzibur Club advisor, Becky Friedman-Charry, the students listened in rapt attention as their own words and feelings were expressed by teachers who stood amongst them. With tremendous respect for each other, students continued into the breakout sessions they had chosen. These sessions included how to approach peers with different learning needs from your own, the way in which we talk to each other about gender or race, and the diversity of our Jewish backgrounds. Some students explored strategies to lessen the stigma associated with mental health issues, while others learned about the complex intersection of the American justice system and mental health care providers. Conversations during the breakout sessions were candid, filled with factual information and empowering strategies, regardless of whether they were led by students, faculty or guests.
Throughout the event, students reflected on our "home away from home" at SSLI. They expressed their dreams, desires and plans for our community to become even more welcoming to our diverse student body. Students imagined for themselves a school where classmates do not exclude one another from social events, where everyone has someone to sit with at lunch, and where they can feel comfortable being their whole selves in school, regardless of the ways they may be unique. We have empowered the students not only to have these dreams, but also to build this community.
Please join the faculty and administration in supporting these amazing teens and their effort to realize our community's dream. Ask your children about the experience they shared in the gym. Ask which breakout sessions they attended. Ask about the behaviors your children plan to implement in response to what they learned. Every student, supported at home and at school, has the ability to turn the dream of a more inclusive high school experience into a reality. We share in Jewish history an additional source for inspiration: Im tirtzu, ain zo aggadah. Herzl said, "If you will it, it is no dream." Our teens have willed it. With great pride in each of them, we support their work to fulfill the dream.
Upper School Principal