New initiatives recently introduced at The Grosse Pointe Academy encourage greater diversity and cultural awareness for the student body.
According to Trevor Clor, who is The Grosse Pointe Academy’s middle school social studies instructor, the main goal of the school’s social studies curriculum is to guide students “to make informed, reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society.” As part of a strategy to achieve that goal, GPA’s administration and faculty and staff have developed a number of new initiatives, including the introduction of Cultural History Month Celebrations into classrooms and bringing outside guests, discussion facilitators, speakers and performers to speak with students as well as the GPA community at large.
Megan Black, GPA’s technology and learning specialist and the school’s diversity chair, says the school also is exploring ways to infuse greater diversity and cultural awareness into other subject areas and classes as well as to offer special professional development opportunities to faculty and staff.
“We are currently in the process of re-examining our existing curriculum with an equity and inclusivity lens,” Black said recently. “Additionally, we’ve challenged our faculty in grades 1 through 8 to add greater visibility and depth to our Cultural History Month celebrations, i.e., Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month in March, and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May as well as National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15.”
Black also said that GPA teachers are encouraged to add enrichment lessons and activities that reach beyond the well-known civil rights leaders and include accomplishments and contributions of leaders from all walks of life: business leaders, scientists, mathematicians, artists, military leaders, etc.
‘SAFE’ space for students
Late last year, the Academy held its first Spoken Word Night, where middle school students and faculty performed poetry and prose for others gathered in the school’s large music room. The November 30 event featured more on the SAFE (Students Advocating for Equity) program, the brainchild of GPA seventh-grader Mallory Childs, to promote equity and celebrate diversity, especially in the middle school.
According to Black, Childs felt the need to start SAFE because she thought it was important to create a safe space for students to discuss equity issues at school. In fact, Childs was one of the first to step forward during the recent Spoken Word Night to make a statement about diversity, equity and inclusiveness.
“I know for certain I am here to create a change,” said Childs, who has been a GPA student since the first grade. “I am here to create an environment that is SAFE, no pun intended. An environment that not only welcomes differences, but celebrate differences.”
She also told those present at the Spoken Word Night that the world today seems to be bombarded us with “isms”: racism, feminism, sexism, and all the other isms one sees today.
“However, we have the opportunity to change the status quo and create an even better, long-lasting tradition here at the Academy,” Childs said. “We have the opportunity today truly to develop a powerful capacity for wisdom and success that applies classroom learning to our lives, beliefs, and values – a philosophy that emboldens students to accomplish incredible things long after they graduate.”
Black added that the Spoken Word Night followed another important event that was held at GPA in early November.
“On November 6, which was election night, we had many inspiring families attend and participate in a Diversity Meet and Greet event,” she said. “They brought to light several helpful insights about diversity and intercultural competence at GPA,” she said.
Just in time
Black said that these initiatives at the Academy couldn’t be happening at a more opportune time.
“There is a lot of intolerance, injustice and division in our country,” she said. “At the same time, there is evidence everywhere of people striving to build bridges of inclusivity, justice, peace and welcoming. This can only be done by becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, having difficult conversations, and examining our own identities, biases and privileges. The Academy, with the help of students like Mallory Childs, want to begin the process of being the change we wish to see in the world by changing and challenging ourselves.”
Going forward, there are a number of other events planned for the Academy, which school officials hope will keep the diversity and inclusiveness conversation going.
“We had special student assemblies on January 18 that featured Leslie McCurdy, the Windsor, Ontario-based actor, playwright and dancer, who performed ‘The Spirit of Harriet Tubman,’ for our fourth-through-eighth graders and ‘Harriet is my Hero’ for grades 1 through 3,” added Black, who said there is also a movie night planned for Black History Month on the evening of February 20, 2019.
Symposiums and syllabuses
The Academy’s longtime “buddy” program is also being utilized to help further the school’s diversity and inclusiveness initiative.
“We plan to have our older class buddies read books to their younger buddies from our library collection that tell the stories of African-American leaders and heroes during Black History Month,” said Sasha Murphy, GPA’s dean of students, teacher, NJHS/Student Council advisor and community service coordinator who is working with Black on GPA’s diversity programming. “And they’ll read stories about women leaders and suffragettes during Women’s History Month.”
The Grosse Pointe Academy also participates in special diversity symposiums each year, sponsored by AIMS, the Association of Independent Michigan Schools, according to Murphy.
“These symposiums typically rotate between upper elementary for grades 4 and 5, and middle school,” Murphy said. “We send self-selected students who write short essays explaining why their participation will be meaningful to them to these immersive learning experiences. The students who attend then return and share their insights, stories, and experiences with their peers here at the Academy.”
A number of other GPA faculty members also have been incorporating current issues surrounding some of society’s more intractable problems into their daily syllabus, including Bridgette Murray, GPA’s eighth grade English language arts teacher, who, for the past several years has done a capstone project with graduating students that require them to research community problems, present them in class and provide possible solutions and/or support for those issues.
“In fact, this year, eighth-grader Saniyah Smith, who also participated in the Spoken Word Night, is doing her capstone project on police brutality,” said Murphy, who noted that Smith was inspired by the film and book, “The Hate You Give.”
For GPA’s Megan Black, all of these school initiatives are designed for one overarching goal.
“We are committed to working in a thoughtful way to develop well-rounded, global-minded citizens and making our community welcoming and affirming for all,” she said.