As we continue to struggle with civil discourse and respect for all in our national dialogue, I write to share with you my pride in NSHS students for the many ways in which their leadership, actions, and voices are making positive impacts on our school culture.
I’ve written before about my worries of the lack of civility in our public discourse in this country. It’s particularly troubling when these patterns have been echoed in the halls and classrooms here at South. Like the greater society, we have experienced an increase in anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist incidents over the past several years.
Three years ago, we (the NSHS administrative team) made a decision to focus more on developing and building the capacity of our students to help construct a positive, healthy school environment where students themselves are able and expected to take a stand against hateful speech. For us, this represented a shift from the adults primarily creating and maintaining an inclusive and respectful school environment to one in which we entrust and empower students to help create and mold our school culture.
Here are a few of the initiatives that we have developed to encourage student leadership, action, and voice:
- ADL Peer Leaders: 30+ juniors and seniors trained by the Anti Defamation League to implement lessons to freshman English classes on hate speech and microaggressions (these lessons will occur next week)
- Courageous Conversations on Race: a different group of juniors and seniors trained by our own staff to engage Sophomore students in lessons about what it means to welcome and respect all students (occured in Chemistry classes during term 3)
- “Roar”-ums: Student moderated school-wide discussions during J block, on topics chosen by students
The above initiatives work in conjunction with some long-time, student-led events that have taken on more significance given recent events, including:
- Aware Day, Multicultural Day, T’BGLAD Day, and others: Student designed and led day-long programs featuring speakers and panels to explore and inform on issues of mental health, cultural awareness, sexual and gender identity, and other issues
- Clubs: A wide variety of community service and social activism, often focused on the world outside of the walls of NSHS
- WISE: senior year projects that students choose for themselves
While I am proud of our school for the progress we have made, I am aware that this work is never complete. I ask you to support our efforts by talking to your children about the values of inclusion and respect that are the foundation of this work and by reaching out to school staff if you are aware of any instance where these norms are violated.
I do know that I feel good about our future when I see our next generation developing the skills necessary to engage in respectful dialogue and accept people of all backgrounds. These are the essential skills they will need to be successful in the world today.