A Meeting of Minds – St John’s Prep at Social Justice Summit
The Middle School hosted its inaugural Social Justice Summit earlier this year, welcoming nearly 50 students from the seventh and eighth grades of the Newton-based all-girls Catholic school, Mount Alvernia. Nearly 60 cohort participants from the Prep’s seventh and eighth grade classes joined in the event, which explored issues of gender and race inequality. Pictures on SmugMug.
The four-hour think tank featured interactive stations, galleries, and multimedia platforms designed to foster discussion. At the seventh grade level, the topical focus was on gender and media as well as gender-related stereotyping and misconceptions. Students were encouraged to journal, share, and even cast a vote on how they define feminism. Reflection and dialogue also centered on forming and maintaining healthy relationships with friends of the opposite gender. Last fall, Mount Alvernia hosted Prep seventh graders for a similar event in Newton.
“I think there are two goals for summits like this one,” says Middle School Dean of Students and Student Life Coordinator Jessaca Michaelson, who served as an event coordinator along with Middle School Director Jason Larocque and Mrs. Jennifer Staysniak from Mount Alvernia. “One is to give our students, who are in an all-boys setting, an opportunity to interact with girls their age and have an academic conversation guided by high school students in low-pressure setting. Secondly, we’re getting guys and girls together to look at big, tough social issues that are impacting our society with the intended outcome for them to walk away with a plan to help influence change for the better.”
With assistance from about 20 high school moderators from Mt. Alvernia, who guided small group sessions, a number of Prep seventh graders were eager to share their positive takeaways from some of the exercises. Matthew Morrow ’23 said the social media galleries that students were asked to react to in writing and in real time “do make you think” about the power of imagery, while Jackson Burke ’23 resolved to “treat people in a way that’s not based upon stereotypes.” Owen Horrigan ’23 concluded, “You can think of all people as equal and all people as different, and that can be a positive for all genders.”
The eighth grade sessions revolved around issues of bias and race, including how the news media shapes race and racism in America, how this might this influence students’ own perspectives and how can these tendencies be challenged and changed. Mentored by five high school moderators from the Prep, participants sifted through these themes on a rotating, small-group basis via pairing and sharing, group discussion, and journal exercises. They also viewed a TED talk and listened to rap music in order to parse through lyrics and analyze messages of disenfranchisement.
“From a Prep perspective, we’re working with middle school boys, so we try to offer different means of taking in information to accommodate different learning styles,” says seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher Jared Rodriguez ’09, who designed the modules for the event’s eighth grade program. “The goal is to have at least one approach stick. With the time limitations we face, a summit like this isn’t necessarily about teaching as much as it’s about lighting a spark. We want each student to come away with an answer to the question: ‘What are you thinking about now in terms of gender justice and racial awareness that you weren’t thinking before?’”
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