Empowering Lower Schoolers to Work Toward a More Equitable World

Emily Miller, Head of Lower School
The days before winter break were filled with celebration and excitement as fifth graders hosted a poetry slam, third graders shared their Lego WeDo robot insects during a family drop-in, young musicians delighted audiences with their musical endeavors, and Lower School students presented their community service projects during the last Share of 2020. 

As we return to school for the second semester, we do so with eagerness and the knowledge that it is one of the most dynamic and productive periods of learning. Classroom routines have been established, foundational skills in both math and literacy have been built, and students’ sense of connection and belonging with their teachers and peers have been rooted. With these important pieces in place, we are able to immerse ourselves in curricular studies with greater purpose and vigor. 

During our first few days back at school, teachers reported warm sentiments around seeing their students, and students were enthusiastic and excited for 2021, a new year that offers hope and promise. This week, Pre-K students went on an edible scavenger hunt in their homes, while Kindergarten students practiced strategies for subtraction and writing and solving equations, and first graders were able to sing and dance to the Singing Walrus song, a birthday tradition, since they were in their homes and unencumbered by COVID restrictions. After their remote PE class, second graders, in a gesture of celebration, beamed and fist pumped. When learning about the launch of the third-grade Egypt study, one student raised her hand and heartily shouted, “WE’RE STARTING OUR EGYPT PROJECT!” Her excitement so infectious that it fired up her classmates to share in the enthusiasm. 

Fourth graders learned about the legend of the Daruma Doll, a traditional goal setting activity in Japan, and later practiced the Zazen meditation pose while focusing on one part of nature. After serendipitously choosing a snowflake, they were delighted to find that when they opened their eyes it was snowing. Sparking absolute joy, students continued in their practice of gratitude and the Choose Love curriculum. During a creative writing prompt, Ms. Gill asked fifth graders what they would do if COVID-19 disappeared for just one day. Their responses centered around being with friends and family, something they so dearly miss. 

Monday and Tuesday brought absolute joy and promise. On Thursday, our conversations turned, as the Lower School faculty began to digest Wednesday’s events at the Capitol and plan for how we would provide students with the tools and space for discussing those events in a manner that is safe and in keeping with the School’s Core Values. What this looks like at each age and grade will vary, and we will work closely with parents to make them aware of any concerns that arise in the classroom and with particular students. 

With younger students we do not plan to introduce ideas and images from Wednesday, but we also want to be prepared should those conversations arise with students who have seen or overheard such discussions. With this in mind, on Thursday morning Lower School faculty and administrators began sharing resources with one another and during our Lower School faculty meeting on Thursday afternoon, we talked about how we can use tools and strategies from our Anti-Bias Building Blocks curriculum and our Choose Love SEL curriculum, to provide a calm, safe, and steady presence for students while also helping those who are ready to engage in conversation around a historic and troubling event. Please ask your child’s classroom teacher if you have questions and let us know if you are seeing signs of worry and upset in your student at home. This linked resource offers suggestions for talking with young children about violence. 

As the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. approaches, there will be two Share assemblies, one for students in Pre-K to Grade 3 and one for students in Grades 4-8. On Thursday, fourth and fifth graders will join Middle School students in an assembly where they will listen to and discuss King’s "I Have a Dream" speech. Through stories and classroom discussions, younger Lower School students will learn about the life and words of Dr. King, and how through nonviolent protest and the Civil Rights movement he and many others fought to end segregation and racism.
 
The celebration of Dr. King’s life and work will be a launch point for February’s Black History Month. Throughout the Lower School, we will focus on amplifying Black voices stamped out by racism and on celebrating their contributions and influence on American culture and history. Building on teachers’ ongoing conversations and work around race and racism, including those connected to the Anti-Bias Building Blocks and Choose Love curricula and those connected to our social studies curriculum, teachers will use literature that has been carefully curated by our librarian Stephanie Goals, as well as picture and novels that have been carefully vetted by teachers using the Teaching Tolerance’s tool for selecting diverse texts. If you would like to read books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at home, please visit the list Ms. Golas has created. We will share additional resources as we get closer to Black History Month. 

This week has offered important lessons and many opportunities to engage students in conversation around topics related to civics, democracy, racism, voting rights, and protest that is in stark contrast to the nonviolent, peaceful protest advocated by Dr. King. We are committed to supporting students during this difficult time, and with your partnership believe that we can empower them to work toward a better, more peaceful, and equitable world.
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As an inclusive community, Brimmer welcomes students who will increase the diversity of our school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender, gender identity and expression, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or any other characteristic protected from discrimination under state or federal law, in the administration of our educational policies, admissions practices, financial aid decisions, and athletic and other school-administered programs.