Building a Foundation of Acceptance and Compassion
February 12, 2021
By Jadzia Jean, student member, St. Mary Academy – Bay View Inclusive Curriculum Committee
In May 2020, the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement across the United States and around the world. Some students at Bay View saw this as an opportunity to initiate important conversations within our school community.
Two of my classmates, Neisa Barbosa and Jia Weingard, asked the Bay View administrative faculty for their support in holding a fundraiser for the BLM movement. This request developed into a school-wide effort to bring the activism happening across the world into our school by getting more involved ourselves. With the help of our theology teacher, Matt Daly, we created two clubs: a Critical Concerns Committee, to impact issues in our community with book drives, newsletters and more, and the SOCA Club (the Students of Color Alliance), which functions as a safe space for students of color to talk about their experiences or just casually converse. Then Mary Ann Snider, our vice principal of academics and curriculum, engaged a diversity consultant, Claudia Traub, to help us form a committee to design a more inclusive curriculum.
It makes me so proud to attend a school that would work with its students to create this type of opportunity.
The Inclusive Curriculum Committee’s goal is to have upper-class students teach an identity and culture curriculum to incoming grade 9 students starting with the 2021–22 school year. This curriculum will be separate from the classes on our regular schedules and will focus on accepting others as they are, coming to terms with our own identities and the different ways we identify ourselves, and caring about the feelings and effects our words and actions have on others. We want our first-year students to be welcomed to Bay View with this course so they will know they are entering a safe, compassionate and supportive environment. With this foundation to build on throughout our time at Bay View, we believe that new students will grow to be more thoughtful and aware individuals. We also hope students will gain the confidence to be activists in their daily lives, as well, and not forget about critical issues in the world just because a movement may not be trending.
There will be eight classes taught over the course of the year, one month at a time, focused on topics such as identity, intersectionality, microaggressions, culture shock and the LGBTQ+ community, among others. Because peers will be teaching peers, we believe the lessons will be more relatable. Because these classes will come from the hearts of our members—made by students for students—we hope that discussions will feel engaging and open, creating a safe, non-classroom space to engage in civil discourse and widen our perspectives.
As a student of color, I feel closely connected to issues affecting marginalized groups, and with friends from almost every community, I am very interested in sharing identities and lifting others up. I jumped at the chance to participate in these clubs and this committee. These types of resources make my peers and me feel more included in the school community and show the effort that caring staff members put in. We hope this is the start of something that might be done more widely in other schools across the country.
The Bay View school community works to be accepting and inclusive to all. With these classes—where students can speak their minds, ask questions and grow their perspectives—Bay View students can learn to push through the struggles and resistance they face in the outside world and become prouder of their identities. Once we learn to accept and love our differences, we can be more confident in showing others who we are and in creating understanding. It is inevitable that all of us, students and teachers, will face adversity. What is most important is being able to facilitate mature conversations about identity and knowing how to get back up after a fall.
We started these projects because, as Neisa Barbosa, one of the committee founders, said: “We wanted to see change done, not spoken on.” We as a school community need to stand in solidarity on the important issues that face us, our friends, our families and our communities. It is never too early to reinforce lessons of how to be an accepting and thoughtful person. We need to use our ears to listen more, our mouths to share words of kindness and knowledge, and our hearts to accept and love the people around us. I am so proud to be a part of this committee and the other clubs that came out of the surge of activism in 2020. I cannot wait to get this curriculum started and to incorporate these important conversations into the Bay View experience. This will truly be something that students and alumnae can always hold with them.