Opportunities for Boys to Practice 21st Century skills
How wonderful it was for our school and our students to host the AISNE Middle School Diversity Conference a few Saturdays ago. It provided rich opportunities for our boys to lead, to follow, to learn, to experience difference and sameness in new ways, to practice being hospitable and to model culturally responsive leadership while putting our own core values into action in practical and relevant ways.
Nineteen schools from across New England sent 300 students and chaperones on a lovely mild November day to Concord to be greeted by a group of twenty plus welcoming Fenn boys, many in their blue blazers, some with sleep-tussled hair and smiling morning faces. How meaningful it was for our guys to be the face of Fenn while practicing cultural humility, and welcoming the arriving travelers as they entered the doors of an unfamiliar school, ready for a day of connection and learning. John Sharon, Fenn's History Department Chair, in his key note address, spoke of hospitality as being equal to fairness or justice, as something that makes provisions for all people to feel welcome and able to access the full experience of a place or event. It was heart-warming to witness our students in the welcoming role, and taking responsibility for the tone and success of the day.
Interactive, reflective, participatory workshops created solid opportunities for our boys to make meaningful connections across race, gender, ethnicity (and perhaps other identities known only to them.) In the swarm of middle school students it felt gratifying to experience such a wholesome mix of girls, boys, a range of skin tones, origins and adolescent development. Sharing ideas and experiences within such a mix can only foster better understanding and harmony for these young people going forward. If only such immediate diversity was the norm in our lives. Alas, too many of us and our students return to the monocultures of our home communities, where we are denied the richness of possibility for connection across difference within our society. May the experience of the AISNE conference, and more days like it, give these students a yearning for integrated communities, cross cultural connections and the power to create them, as success in the 21st century will require of them.
The theme of the day "We are all Connected" was emphasized effectively by John Sharon's personal narrative in his keynote address and by the Improv Boston Group who engaged us in the afternoon with humorous and illustrative examples of how cooperation and presence are required in theatrical improvisation, just as they are in our multicultural world. Many workshops that morning emphasized the importance of honest communication, close, active listening and responsiveness. One workshop on student leadership, created and led by three of our able students: Maahin Gulati, Sammy Hankoui and Louis Gounden, led at least one young girl to the discovery of her own leadership potential, by casting a new light on what it means to lead. An atmosphere of safety and trust allowed a student from another school to express, during closing remarks to the entire gathering, his sadness about his school's lack of acknowledgement of Hindu holidays. Other students shared meaningful and heartfelt reflections in the atmosphere of caring and trust that our own students helped to create. What a gift this was for Fenn boys, and nothing like what I experienced at their age! Responsibility for the day was shared by Fenn Student Diversity Committee members. They helped plan it, run it and clean up after it. What wonderful ambassadors they were, recognizing that the reputation of their school and some tools for success were in their hands, empowering young leaders in diversity across New England. May energy, awareness and yearning for justice and equity gain traction among these young people, and lead us to a better place in the 21st century.
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