First Ever Elementary Student Diversity Day

By Kristin Sanderson

On Saturday, April 18, The Miquon School hosted the area’s first Elementary Student Diversity Day (ESDD), an event for third through sixth graders from different backgrounds to come together for a variety of fun, interactive activities surrounding the topics of diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice.

Specifically designed for young students, ESDD included participants from several area schools who attended workshops that tackled difficult subjects in a very kid-friendly, age-appropriate way. According to Miquon Principal Julia Finney, the program was very intentionally designed so children would come away from the experience “moved, but not shaken.”

Sessions such as “We’re In This Together: Making the World Safe for Everybody” and “Defining the Term—What Social Justice Really Means” featured local teacher-experts from The Miquon School and Germantown Friends School. These presenters guided the children through a variety of interactive activities and group discussions, helping them learn more about themselves and their peers as unique individuals, as well as access issues of diversity related to their world.

DSC08905Children began with exposure to what it might be like to experience disadvantage, with topics ranging from bullying to the migration of minority cultures—including an exploration of those willingly departing their home countries to those being forced to leave, as with the slave trade.

As Jess Cronin-Connelly from St. Peter’s School explained, “Whether you’re choosing or you’re forced to leave a place, you have a lot to leave behind. There’s a lot [for the students] to take in.”

In a session entitled, “What Do You Say When You Hear ‘That’s so Gay’?” led by Kate Garrity, the kids practiced the importance honoring an individual’s uniqueness and standing up as an ally with the help of the response acronym, S.T.O.P., or Saying That Offends People.

DSC09014Later, during the “Whomp! Brring! Zap! How Can Your Super Power Help the World?” workshop, Miquon teachers Anne Brady and Celia Cruz helped children imagine their own superheroes that might affect change. The kids then created comic strips illustrating fictional heroes like Super Mouth—inspired by the false teeth one child saw at his orthodontist—who challenged people to use words instead of their hands in a conflict.

According to Eileen Gaia, a teacher chaperone from United Friends School, the various groups “talked a lot about social justice, talked about change, talked about race. [The kids] got the idea that you’re trying to make change. Then it was carried over again into the artwork when they did the comics. It was draw your superhero—and how could your superhero make change.”

Complementing the day’s work was ample time for the kids to just be kids, and play together on Miquon’s wooded campus on Harts Lane in Conshohocken. Elementary students from a variety of urban and suburban school settings explored the creek and tree-lined hillside together during their lunch break—with some discovering first-hand what it felt like to be ankle-deep in Miquon “mud.”

DSC08871“I was most excited about meeting other kids from other schools,” said Nathan Cideciyan, a sixth grader from Lafayette Hill.

The ultimate goal of the day was for children to take the knowledge and skills acquired during ESDD into the wider circle of their lives–strengthening respect, understanding, and empathy at their own schools and home towns around Philadelphia. In total, there were seven participating schools, including Community Partnership School, Frankford Friends, Germantown Friends, Gladwyne Montessori, Goshen Friends, Miquon, and United Friends.

When asked about the experience on Saturday, Emma DeRosa of United Friends School said, “I learned it is okay to be yourself. It doesn’t matter what people think.”

Dakota Borneman Murtha, also of United Friends, continued that thought, explaining she learned “how people are treated unfairly because of their cultures, and are judged differently because of how they look. “I think I will be more aware of my surroundings and help the world more,” she said.

ESDD was planned and coordinated by the Greater Philadelphia Diversity Collaborative (GPDC), a collection of small, independent pre-K through eighth grade schools that self-organized in 2009 to bring together their cumulative resources in the interest of furthering diversity education among their students.

For GPDC member Jeri Bond Whatley, her vision of ESDD quickly became a reality. “What I envisioned is what happened,” Jeri says. “The kids were engaged and excited. They really got in touch with the topics.”

In the coming years, GPDC hopes to build on the success of Elementary School Diversity Day with all of the member schools serving as rotating event hosts, drawing on an expanding circle of regional schools committed to diversity and anti-bias education.

View a slideshow of the day’s events.