Building Bridges

The great 19th century American author Herman Melville once wrote: “We cannot only live for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us…And along those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes. And then they come back to us as effects.”
From the age of Moby Dick until today, the idea that we are all connected is timeless and powerful. As people and cultures grow and change seemingly faster than ever—challenging our connectedness—the ultimate question for educators and parents is how are we equipping the leaders of tomorrow to navigate our communities in a healthy way?
This year as part of our eighth-grade curriculum, students are required to take a new course: Building Bridges, Beyond Tolerance. The course every other week and is guided by the overarching concept of building positive connections between people and communities.
The course offers a two-pronged approach. In the first, students explore identity, empathy, collaboration, and inclusion. In the second, students learn communication skills, such as active listening, body language, speaking up and speaking with kindness. They also discuss the impact of texting and social media and the power of reflection and silence.
The central text of the course is a Newbury Medal-winning novel Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman (2004). Each chapter is told from different perspectives of people from various backgrounds living in one community in Cleveland, Ohio. Through their collective choices, these folks from varied cultures and ethnicities decide to turn a vacant, drug-infested lot into a community garden. It’s a story of hope, struggle and, ultimately, unity.

As educators and parents, our response to the pace of change in our communities can never be oversimplified—our lives are too diverse and multidimensional. However, at the heart of teaching children, our focus cannot shift away from teaching young people how to communicate in healthy ways. Our humanity is indeed built upon “the fibers that connect us,” and central to any great education must be a concerted effort to grow curiosity and teach understanding, dialogue, conflict resolution and peace.
I am pleased to be directing the course this academic year, and I look forward to other opportunities within our school community to build bridges between students, programs, places and people. Gill St. Bernard’s is built upon the Core Values of courage, integrity, respect, compassion and excellence—by wearing these Core Values on our sleeve, we can help our students become leaders and peacemakers for tomorrow.
Broadway Recommendation
Come From Away, a must-see Broadway musical! Taking place in Newfoundland after the tragedy of 9/11, the music and story bring hope and inspiration from the darkness of this profound event.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful, and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.