APRIL 30, 2015 By Jen Bradley
Students from seven schools arrived at The Miquon School in Conshocken under a blue and sun-drenched sky earlier this month for a joint Diversity Day.
The other participating schools included Community Partnership School, Frankford Friends, Germantown Friends, Gladwyne Montessori, United Friends, and Goshen Friends.
For Jeri Bond Whatley, her vision of the Elementary School Diversity Day became a reality during the event. “What I envisioned is what happened. The kids were engaged and excited. They really got in touch with the topics.”
Topics for change
The topics were by no means light for these third through sixth graders, but they were approached in a child-friendly, age-appropriate way. According to Miquon Principal Julia Finney, the program was intentionally designed so that children would come away from the experience “moved, but not shaken.”
Sessions such as “We’re In This Together: Making the World Safe for Everybody” and “Defining the Term — What Social Justice Really Means” featured local teacher-experts who guided the children through a variety of interactive activities and group discussions.
Children began with exposure simulation to what it might be like to experience disadvantage, with topics ranging from bullying to the migration of minority cultures — including an exploration of those willingly departing their home countries to those being forced to leave.
In another session, “What Do You Say When You Hear ‘That’s so Gay’?” kids practiced the importance of honoring an individual’s uniqueness and standing up as an ally using the response acronym, STOP, which stands for ‘Saying That Offends People.’
According to Eileen Gaia, a teacher chaperone from United Friends School, the various groups “talked a lot about social justice, talked about change, talked about race.” The driving goal of the day was for children to take the knowledge and skills and apply it to strengthen respect, understanding, and empathy throughout their schools and hometowns around Philadelphia.
But another intentional part of the day was allowing children time to get to know one another, play, and explore together. Elementary students from urban and suburban schools explored the creek and tree-lined hillside together during their lunch break — discovering first-hand what it felt like to be ankle-deep in ‘Miquon mud.’
The day ended with students sharing their reflections. When asked about the experience, Emma DeRosa of United Friends School said, “I learned it is okay to be yourself. It doesn’t matter what people think.”
Dakota Borneman Murtha, also of United Friends, continued that thought, explaining she learned that “people are treated unfairly because of their cultures, and are judged differently because of how they look. I think I will be more aware of my surroundings and help the world more.”
“I was most excited about meeting other kids from other schools,” said Nathan Cideciyan, a sixth grader from Lafayette Hill.
The students had smiles and hugs for their new friends as they left the school’s campus.
Building on the success of this first Elementary School Diversity Day faculty and staff plan to host rotating events at member schools, widening the circle of regional schools committed to diversity and anti-bias education.