Middle School Workshop Develops Empathy

Last week the entire Middle School participated in a day devoted to diversity and cultural competency.  This is a long-held tradition of the Middle School when students and faculty can spend more time on a topic, idea or question. In years past we have had special guests, participated in workshops and visited various institutions in the Hartford area.  This year, the Middle School explored affinity groups. Associate Director of the Middle School Kathy Dunn and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency Joan Edwards chose this topic because two affinity groups have already been established at the request of our students: one for students of color and one for Jewish and Jewish allies who meet together once per week.  Dunn said, “Middle School is a time when kids are forming their identity and the world is pushing them to ask questions of themselves. It’s inspiring that the students came to the idea of affinity groups organically.”

Dunn and Edwards believe it is important for all students and faculty to understand what an affinity group is and why affinity groups are important, and the best way to do that is for everyone to experience an affinity group first hand.  The powerful sense of belonging and understanding that affinity groups of all kinds provide is an important element in what makes a community a community. To that end, students and teachers defined terms together and attended an affinity group meeting based on birth order:  oldest, youngest, middle, only and twin children. The day also included small and large group sharing and personal reflection time.

Prior to the day, students filled out a form and self-identified their birth order in the family. What may seem like an innocuous question raised issues for some students asking them to reflect on their position in the family.  One student said that he had an older sibling that no longer lives in the house so he functioned as the eldest sibling. Another adopted student questioned how they counted in the birth order of the family. “It was amazing to witness. They had some really interesting conversations about themselves even before the day.” During the day-long workshops, the birth order affinity groups shared with one another what they thought of themselves, what they thought other people believed they were like and what they wished people knew about them.

Dunn said that the Middle School is trying to create an environment where affinity groups can have their point of view heard. “It’s important for the students in the majority to understand why it’s important for the minority students to process their experience within this institution. It’s not a question of exclusion,” she said.

For next steps, the faculty will continue to talk to the students about what they learned from that experience. Dunn hopes that other affinity groups develop. “Let’s plant a seed and see where it grows.” Eighth graders, especially, are beginning to develop a sense of social justice so the Middle School is developing skills on how to be a good ally. “Any program that we do to help kids learn how to talk to each other across difference is anti-bullying. Everything we do here at the KO Middle School is anti-bullying from navigating relationships with peers and adults,” Dunn said.
 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
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