On October 15, Gill St. Bernard’s School coordinated and hosted a virtual middle school equity and inclusion summit via Zoom titled, “See Us. Hear Us. Empowering Students to be Change Agents in Their School.” Over 150 students and teachers from 15 independent schools from New Jersey and Pennsylvania participated in discussions and leadership workshops focused on how seventh- and eighth-grade students can help foster equity, diversity, and inclusiveness.
Dr. Rodney Glasgow, Head of School at Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Spring, Maryland, presented an inspiring keynote address and led the faculty discussion. Dr. Glasgow is one of the founding members, and now Chair, of the National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference. During the discussion sessions, students identified issues and challenges at their schools and explored strategies for addressing them to effect social change in their school communities. Dr. Glasgow stressed, "Once you raise the issue, you've got to be willing to be part of the solution."
Of note also is that this summit was partially funded through the generosity of The Peter and Randell Schmidt Fund for Community Service. This endowment was established by alumni to support student participation in community service and an annual service and civic engagement lecture series. The goal is to engage the GSB community in lively conversation and dialogue about the most important issues in current affairs and civic life.
Peter and Randi Schmidt both joined the summit for Dr. Glasgow's presentation and were thrilled the fund was able to "help further ethnic, racial, and class diversity discussions at such an important time for Gill."
“As schools embrace diversity and strive to create more equitable and inclusive environments, it is important to empower students with the critical thinking skills required to amplify their concerns and the lead the way in bringing positive change,” said Tracey Goodson Barrett, GSB Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “This summit showed young students’ passion for tackling the issues of race, bias, and privilege and their eagerness to connect with others to help build better schools and communities.”
In preparation for the summit, students and teachers watched three short films from Brave New Films’ Following Their Lead: Youth in Action film series. After the screenings, students discussed the films and what they learned from the youth-led advocacy groups featured in each. The students were invited to reflect on the ways they expanded their understanding of people whose cultural identities and lived experiences are different from their own.
During the summit, participants worked in two breakout group sessions facilitated by GSB faculty and five teachers from other schools. The groups provided opportunities for conversation, connection, and collaboration, with several students expressing that they "learned new terms they had not heard of before," and they “learned a lot from their peers.”
At the conclusion, participants were invited to continue their efforts through access to a shared Google folder for each school. The folders provide a space for students to share resources, draft action plans, and identify key members of the community who are actively involved.
Dr. Montana Vasquez-Grinnell, the Middle School Equity & Inclusion Liaison, met with the 12 GSB student participants on Monday, October 19 to facilitate identifying the next steps they would like to take, and the group identified the following goals:
• Create stickers and signs promoting inclusion;
• Host Town Hall meetings; and
• Connect with the Upper School affinity groups like GSA, BSU, Gill for Diversity, etc.
Dr. Grinnell found that, “The students are really passionate about all of the work being student-led and in wanting to expand the group to include more students. At the first Town Hall meeting, they would like to present to their peers what the summit was, its purpose, their goals, and their commitment to including more student participation in this important work.”