From InterSession to Social Justice Week

For nearly a decade, the upper school has studied a country or region of the world between our first and second semesters in a program called InterSession (recently overseen by Margaret Smith, the director of city curriculum). During this weeklong exploration, students and teachers worked collaboratively to learn more about politics, arts, culture, history, and nuances of various parts of the world not normally studied in the curriculum. The most recent areas covered were: China, Mexico, Russia and the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and South Asia. Experts in each area came to the school to give lectures and guided discussions, groups went to various sites in Philadelphia and the Northeast, and small cohorts created projects to reflect on their learning and to share ideas with other groups. Our international travel was also tied to these studies, which enhanced the trip for those able to go. InterSession was funded by the EE Ford Foundation and helped the school realize its potential as a program rooted in Philadelphia and connected to the world. 

As our last year of funding was winding down, the faculty, administration, and students reflected on where to go next with InterSession. There was overwhelming support for the global education we had been engaging in, but also a desire to marry some of the energy we were gaining from Advance Friends Select. Namely, we wanted to harness the student-driven work of the Martin Luther King Teach-In (facilitated by Toni Graves Williamson, the director of equity and inclusion), revise our service program, and more fully embrace our position in the city of Philadelphia. To that end, Social Justice Week is being created by Toni Graves Williamson, Margaret Smith, and Norman Bayard, the upper school dean of students. 

As currently envisioned, the upper school community will engage in the inaugural program from January 21-24. Here is the schedule: 

January 21: Martin Luther King Teach-In

January 22-23: Deep dives into various tracks: 

  1. Immigration Reform
  2. Drug/Opioid Crisis
  3. Community and Police Relations
  4. Unlearning Hate (white nationalism, online hate)
  5. The LGBTQ Community
  6. Food Insecurity
  7. Mental Health
  8. Environmental Justice

January 24: Continue deep dives and shape the group’s learning into something that can be shared. All of the groups will engage in responding to these three essential questions: 

How does your track intersect with homelessness and housing security?

After engaging in a deep dive of the various tracks, do I feel moved to do more in the future? If so, what? If not, why?

In South Africa there is the term “ubuntu.” In short, ubuntu means “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Who are we currently as a school community in relationship to those members of our city that are greatly impacted by the deep dive tracks?

It is our hope that all of the members of our community will find ways to learn and take action in our city in a deep and meaningful way; more specifically, Margaret, Toni, and Norman have developed this list of goals for the week: 

  • Honor the legacy of Dr. King and stepping into living that legacy 
  • Maintain/build student professionalism and ownership over the week
  • Create authentic learning experiences 
  • Create opportunities for student and faculty choice and voice
  • Integrate learning with helping build community
  • Inspire ambition
  • Provide practice realizing ambition
  • Capturing social media as a tool for justice, a tool to spread equity & love

In closing, we are aiming to live up to Dr. King’s principles, among them, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”