September 08, 2022
Community Building in the Middle School
All the Middle School students assembled in the Roberts Theater by advisee groups for a summer reading celebration of the book When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. Head of the Middle School Ann Sciglimpaglia and Associate Head of the Middle School Kathy Dunn provided prompts for the groups to discuss, which individual students then shared with the entire Middle School.
Sciglimpaglia said that the Middle School teachers are laying the groundwork for discussing identity with their students. “This exercise helped launch a renewed conversation about identity and who you are,” she said. “You can be a more valuable team member when you understand yourself and ultimately build a better community.”
The first task assigned to the students was to think about a part of the book they found surprising, provoked more questions, liked, or remembered. One student shared that they were surprised that the grandmother died, and another was surprised that one of the characters put mud in another character’s pudding. Two of the faculty said they didn’t expect to cry while reading the novel, but they did.
The next assignment was to contemplate a quote from the book, “When you face your whole story, you can understand your whole heart.” One student explained that “When you understand the big picture, things will make more sense to you, especially if something is strange or if it’s something that you haven’t seen before.” Another person shared that understanding your whole heart means confronting your failures and vulnerabilities.
Another thought-provoking exchange was unpacking the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and applying that expression to other parts of life. One student gave the example of a food that didn’t look appetizing, but once he tasted it, he discovered it was delicious. He also said that he might look skinny, but he is very strong. The classes then extended this exercise to how they viewed characters initially in the book and how the characters revealed themselves to be. For instance, although the tiger seemed intimidating, he was helpful; the old “witch-like” character was a kindly old grandmother.
This was a tremendous community-building project that led to meaningful discussions about making assumptions. As a “getting to know you exercise,” we can all learn that there’s more than what appears than what is on the surface.