Education Inside and Outside the Classroom

Meredith deChabert, Middle School Principal
Ron Hanlon, Middle School Social Studies Teacher

Schools are wonderfully dynamic places where, on any given day, individuals have hundreds of interactions with other members of the community. Every interaction that we have with another person teaches us something – how to get along with others, how not to behave, whom to turn to for assistance, what is important to learn, and so on. The teaching and learning goals of our classroom interactions should be very clear, but all of our teaching does not happen in classrooms. Advisory periods, PE classes and sports, field trips, and special days are among the many contexts in which we teach our students the full complement of skills that will help them to succeed both now and in the future.

One important special day for the Middle School is Diversity Day, which happened this year on Friday, November 3. On Diversity Day, instead of the regular class schedule, we spend time in large and small group configurations, by grade-level, and as a whole community, moving through a set of activities and presentations designed to teach students important skills. Self-awareness. Relationship building. Understanding diversity and inclusion. Character development. Ethics. Empathy. Collaboration. Leadership. We know that these “soft skills” are important for success in today’s world, right alongside the “hard skills” of mathematics, writing, and analysis.

This year’s theme was “Defining Our Community,” and the overarching goal was to have students, teachers, and advisors delve into what it means to be a part of a community and how we define our broader community and nation. We grappled with difficult questions about those within and outside of our community, particularly those who might feel vulnerable or unaccepted in a wide variety of ways. As we leaned into some difficult conversations, I was awed by our students’ maturity in handling the topics, speaking from their own perspectives, and attempting to understand the perspectives of others. We will continue to debrief the day as the year unfolds, but what the day immediately brought forth were feelings of immense gratitude for being a part of a school community that strives to be inclusive, that fosters respect, and that celebrates the many talents and wonderful personalities of the students who make up our student body.

With fewer spaces in which to assemble this year due to the construction projects, a portion of the day’s messaging was done via video in homerooms. The day began with a special installment of Good Morning RCDS, which set the tone for the day with messages from RCDS’s headmaster, Scott Nelson, and our director of diversity and inclusion, Ali Morgan. Students then participated in hands-on, grade-level diversity activities led by the deans. One special feature this year was the “Voices” video, which captured several faculty and student stories of how community and being American has had an impact on their lives. Another new activity was a mixed grade-level project designed to create a collaborative work of art expressing what community means to middle school students at Rye Country Day. After getting to know the students from the other grades, students answered the prompt “A community of people is…” with either a drawing, sketch, words, phrases, sayings, or anything that came to mind. Each group then created a hashtag collage of the ways the students expressed community, and those will be put together to form an all-division collage – soon to be displayed in our hallways, all thanks to Sue Keown. The afternoon brought us together as a division to watch the final show of the upper school fall play, Akeelah and the Bee, which was fantastic. And after debriefing the day in advisory groups, we were all treated to performances of celebration, including a piece by the Cedar Street Dance Company, a skit by the students taking the Integrated elective, several pieces by the WildScats, and a final installment of Good Morning RCDS that highlighted aspects of the day.

Important teaching and learning takes place on Diversity Day. As with every kind of learning, it’s not always easy. Every grade level has a curriculum, and taken together, they form a scope and sequence of essential skills. After Diversity Day, teachers are able to reinforce these skills in their regular academic classes and beyond, knowing that students have a common foundation upon which to build.