The first two weeks of the 2018-2019 school year have come and gone. Several of our classes have enjoyed field trips, highlighted by the three-day Freshman Academy team-building retreat at a camp in northern Wisconsin. Similarly, all four of our middle school grades have engaged in team-building activities either off campus or here on our campus. Today, our entire high school spent the day at Devil’s Lake State Park as did our 7th and 8th grades a week ago. Throughout our Lower School, teachers have worked hard to welcome students, laying the groundwork to create team-oriented classroom environments. Even our Pre-K students ventured to the MCDS garden to work as a team in harvesting 50 pounds of food for the Second Harvest Bank.
These efforts pay off. They lay the foundation to what we envision to be a community-minded school, in which our students know they are valued as an individual—to know that they belong and matter at MCDS. Our middle school students spent time during the first few days to ponder the differences between the words “tolerate,” “accept,” and “embrace.” Students concluded that “to embrace” something means to appreciate it for all it has to offer. When it comes to fellow students, to embrace each other means to see the value in each others’ similarities and differences, and to offer each other kindness and compassion as we learn and grow side by side.
As Head of School, I, too, have invested in efforts to illustrate that a great school first and foremost understands how we learn and grow side by side. Last Friday (and at the end of the day for our 6th through 8th grade students today), I told our students about my Dad Karl and my sister Carol—my sister is mentally handicapped since birth and my Dad is handicapped by Alzheimer’s for the past ten years. I told them that when I was 15, friends of mine ridiculed my sister and called her unkind names—and I did nothing. Last year when I took my dad to a bakery, he was ridiculed and called an unkind name, and I told the person that it made me feel sad when they ridicule someone, and that instead I wished they would understand what it must be like to be my Dad. I also let our students know how the bystanders in the bakery became upstanders when they nodded in approval of my message. I closed my comments that I do not wish these unkind and insensitive comments to happen at our school, and that instead we stand up for ourselves by letting others know how we feel or that we stand up for others.
Today at our all-school assembly, I read to the pre-K through 8th grade students the story of Gerald, the giraffe, who was ridiculed for clumsy dancing skills due to his long legs and neck. With the encouragement of a friend, Gerald learned to dance in his own style, and thereby learned that it is just fine to be different and unique.
In the case of Gerald, it is the shape of his body that caused feelings for not feeling included; for my sister and Dad it was due to the state of their mind. For others, it may be one’s race, one’s religion, or one’s gender. These attributes represent who we are, and I reminded our students it is unacceptable to ridicule or exclude others based on such attributes. In summary, I encouraged our students to raise the kindness-meter in this new school year.