There's Room For That, Too

Meredith deChabert, Middle School Principal

Dear Middle School Parents and Guardians,

Our students are not the only ones who do their summer reading. The Middle School teaching faculty were able to choose from among four titles this summer, all of which had the potential to inform our personal and professional lives: Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Francis Jensen's The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, and Brené Brown's Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. This past Tuesday, we had the chance to spend some time talking with each other about the books – what resonated with us, why, and how it might impact what we do in the classroom and beyond.

All of the books are worth the read if you have the time. A number of things in Brené Brown's book in particular resonated with me, however, given the age group with which we work and the social climate in which they are developing. Brown argues that the need to belong is hardwired in us as a species, since by working together we are better able to survive. Belonging is about being a part of something that is larger than us. Loneliness, according to Brown, can be a dangerous condition: "when we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. In that mode, we want to connect, but our brain is attempting to override connection with self-protection. That means less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing" (55). What seems to be happening today, however, is a different kind of belonging – people are bonding over their fears or disdain, not a sense of shared humanity. The connection to a larger humanity, according to Brown, "gives people more freedom to express their individuality without fear of jeopardizing belonging. This is the spirit, which now seems missing, of saying, 'Yes, we are different in many ways, but under it all we're deeply connected" (33-34).

I love that: Yes, we are different in many ways, but under it all we're deeply connected. It is part of what inspired the theme of "There's room for that, too" for the Middle School this year. Middle schoolers are at an interesting stage of development. Their brains are growing rapidly, soaking up all that is around them and forming important connections and pathways. With that added brainpower and increasing abstract thinking abilities, they are beginning to explore their own identities, seeing themselves as individuals with unique interests and ideas. That heightened sense of individuality – of what makes them different from others – can cause some of our young adolescents a great deal of angst, and many cling to "the group" for comfort and reassurance until they are confident enough to step out on their own. Every day, we help our students to find that confidence by wrapping them in the safety net of community.

How can we be both different and a part of a deeply connected community? Can we disagree or debate with civility, trust that a difference of opinion (or any other kind of difference) will not mean disconnection or isolation, have hard conversations and moments of togetherness? What we try to help our young adolescents learn as they mature is what Brown suggests is true belonging: "true belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are" (40).

At Rye Country Day, there's room for all of us to be who we are.

Sincerely yours,

Meredith J. deChabert, Ph.D.

Assistant Head of School
Middle School Principal