The Purpose in Our Work: Diversity and Inclusion Week

Think about your own personal struggles. Now think about broader struggles with belonging, gender identity, racial equality, access to food and clean water, and freedom from harassment. What does that feel like? Is it uncomfortable? Yes? Good. Let’s start.

Building upon last year’s events, this year, The Winchendon School rolled out Diversity and Inclusion Week in order to deeply explore these issues. While regular classes were held during the day, advisor time, morning meetings, conference block, and an all community dinner provided opportunities for students to reflect, speak-up, and learn.

Led by TWS Director of Service Learning Miranda Jennings and a student committee captained by Alle A. ‘19, 2018‘s Diversity and Inclusion Week began with students working in cross-cultural teams creating community, a team flag, and name for their team. At an all school formal dinner, team leaders introduced their team, poster, motto, and pledge. Students joined together in pledging to uphold the campus as a safe and diverse place for learning as students shared a candle lighting.

By design, a Winchendon School education creates meaningful connections and purpose in all we do. Our Core Values form the foundation of our work. Through our signature programming, students at The Winchendon School are asked uncomfortable questions in order to become better critical thinkers. To kick off our week of Diversity and Inclusion, TWS junior and student leader, Alle A.‘19 spoke of her personal experiences with being bullied, feeling different, and learning to love herself.

“All I can truly do is ask you to love. Love those around you because they’re not going anywhere. And love yourself because at times you’re all you have. I have learned to love my dark skin and bold features, my curly hair and big lips, but some of you are still afraid. Love yourself because every race, gender, religion and figure is beautiful.

Being in love with yourself does not mean you hate others.

Being in love with yourself should not make you feel dominant…or privileged… or guilty… too black… too white… too ghetto… too poor… or too rich.

For me, being in love with myself has given me the ability to love others, because I can’t do for you, what I can’t do for myself.”

 


Want to explore further? Watch Alle’s speech.


Purpose Matters

Today, schools are shifting toward student-centered pedagogies. Rote memorization and classrooms where passive students are lectured don’t exist at The Winchendon School. Preparing for today’s college applications involves students doing real work in the world. Real work means planning, managing time and people, and collaborating to achieve a goal. According to Ross Wehner, such a model gives students purpose, and with purpose, “Colleges are seeing that purpose and passion correlate with success,” (Karen Kennkel, as quoted to Ross Wehner).

A TWS education is innovative in that it provides this purpose. By examining what makes them uncomfortable, TWS students learn logic and critical thinking, as well as how to break large-scale real-world problems into manageable segments, and in doing so, develop leadership and managerial skills. Developing these skills means students can tackle the concepts in AP Calculus, a scene in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, or coding a robot. Diversity and inclusion permeate our school culture, and studying cultural and economic diversity gives relevance to our place in the larger community.

Each day of Diversity and Inclusion Week brought opportunities to explore and grow. After a busy weekend full of activities: athletic contests, Earth Day, and the Zumbathon fundraiser, students began Monday with an all community meeting. Monday afternoon energized faculty and students as they stretched their muscles with field games and so built strong connections and community within their cross-cultural teams. Positive energy and laughter was felt throughout campus.

 

Why Are We Here and Who Are We Helping?

Inquiry drives a TWS education. Our students dive deeply into learning how their service can provide meaningful change. Designed by students, the activities supporting the workshops during the week asked two essential questions: Why are we here? Who are we helping?

Could you live on two dollars a day? How can students at a New England boarding school replicate the feelings around food insecurity and the search for clean drinking water? On Tuesday, some students opted to experience economic diversity. Participating students gave up long showers, their favorite foods, cellphones and other electronics for one day. More importantly, they carried a five-gallon bucket of water with them throughout the day as a reminder that they are able to turn on a tap for drinking water.

Addressing Stereotypes

“You can’t wear that, you’ll look____________ .” Have you heard that before? Students in the Gender Equality Service Learning group challenged students to swap their regular style for a new look. Participating students addressed issues of equality and questioned ideas of masculinity and femininity, as well as perceptions of gender.

Day of Silence

Each year, thousands of students across the country participate in the Day of Silence, a daylong vow of silence symbolizing the silencing effect of anti-LGBTQA bullying and harassment. One hundred students and allies took part in the Winchendon School Day of Silence.


Take a deep dive and explore the Day of Silence


Why Is This Important?

Purpose matters. It keeps students engaged in their learning, and engaged students are the creators for the future. The careers your parents raised your family on may not exist by the time your child(ren) graduate college (or even high school!). Today’s students could be inventing their next jobs. A deep understanding of cultural and economic backgrounds makes us all a better coworker and problem solver. If we hope to unleash our students’ potential and best prepare them for success in college and beyond, we should support them in their high school years to find and pursue their passions. When we do, great learning follows. 1

 

1.The Winchendon School, Blog, College Admissions: The Trends We’re Seeing Today

Further Reading:

Damon, William, The Path to Purpose
Howell, Matthew, The Importance of Purpose in Education
Wehner, Ross, A New Focus on Purpose-Based Learning
The Winchendon School, Blog, College Admissions: The Trends We’re Seeing Today
The Winchendon School Blog, How to Spot Student Centered Inquiry