Learning About Our Identities

Identity. What are the characteristics that shape both how we see ourselves and how we see others?

Our WES Middle School (MS) students delved deeply into these topics during their summer reading assignments, exploring issues around race, gender, culture/religion, and neurodiversity. On Friday, they divided into groups, based on the books they chose to read over the summer, to explore one of the areas in greater depth. The goal was to facilitate deep thinking in our Dragons around hard but necessary topics in the real world.

The summer reading assignment was facilitated by Librarian Mr. Pané and MS English Teacher Katie Hopper.

“These discussions showed the students’ maturity for grappling with issues within the text and showcased their insightfulness, thoughtfulness, and empathy,” said Mr. Pané.

MS Division Direction Kristin Cuddihy and Grade 6 English Teacher Dr. Burkhardt led one of the group discussions about neurodiversity. “I was very impressed that the children chose this topic, because they didn’t know what it was, but wanted to learn more, and that’s a brave move—their curiosity is impressive,” said Ms. Cuddihy.

Chaplain Pitts led the discussion about culture and religion. In this group, one of the books students read included The Librarian of Auschwitz. The students shared their learnings and profound understanding of religious prejudice surrounding the Holocaust and concentration camps.

Chaplain Pitts was impressed by the students’ depth of empathy to characters in the book. “I was surprised, but equally happy, of their understanding about historical events,” she said.

At the conclusion of the discussions, the students enjoyed a virtual visit with author Lisa Fipps, who wrote Starfish, another selection from the summer reading assignment.
Through this conversation, our Dragons explored the hardships faced by those who are body-shamed. They learned the importance of and the empowerment behind the right to be seen, heard, and be different. Similar to the book’s title, our Dragons also learned how to starfish, which Lisa Fipps described as “being you.”

Our summer reading assignment was an important part of our work to help our Dragons understand and embrace their own identities while also celebrating the identities of those who are different from them. These discussions around identity will also continue to be revisited throughout the school year.