Severn Upper School Hits the Road to Build Community Back Home
This fall, Severn Upper School students attended five different conferences centered on ideas of building community through social justice, leadership training, and advocacy. They traveled far and wide to meet students from around the country, learn tools to enact change here at home and hear diverse perspectives on many hot-button issues that affect us all today. After attending the conferences, each group of students shared with the entire Upper School community how they felt, what they learned, and what they hope to achieve moving forward.
Baltimore Student Diversity Leadership Conference at Glenelg Country School
Baltimore Student Diversity Leadership Conference (BSDLC) is an annual gathering of high school students to engage in honest conversations about educational equity, diversity, and inclusion. Hosted at Glenelg Country School and presented by the Association of Independent Maryland Schools, the conference was titled “Masks Off: A Cultural Revolution.” The overarching theme of the day was to encourage students to consider the masks we all wear in different contexts throughout our lives.
SDLC is unique in that it is completely student led; chaperones don’t participate in the student workshops and discussion groups. For students, this creates a sense of privacy and safety among their peers allowing them to explore difficult topics in their own way. They learn how to communicate with one another with the hope of bringing those skills and new ideas back to their schools.
"We encourage anyone who is interested to sign up for next year. It’s a really open environment for students to just talk to each other.” — Jorryn Avery ‘18
SDLC National Conference in Anaheim California
Similar in concept to its local counterpart, the national SDLC conference is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders from across the US. Presented by the National Association of Independent Schools, the three-day conference focuses on self-reflection, forming allies, networking, and bringing ideas back to local communities. Upper School students Courtney Freeman ‘18, Jared Dove ‘18, Morgan Skinner ‘18, and Quinn Roes ‘19 attended the conference with chaperones Ms. Kathleen Donovan, Ms. Kristin Blanck, and Ms. Lise Charlier.
“I enjoyed listening to the keynote speaker Kimberlé Crenshaw who talked about intersectionality and how what makes us diverse affects us all in different ways. She talked about what that means as part of the independent school community and as part of the larger world. All of us have different viewpoints that we come to through our experiences with different people. We discussed how to talk more openly, listen to our peers, and learn from each other.” — Jared Dove ‘18
“I heard a lot of people say that they were able to bring their full selves to the conference. I heard a lot of kids say ‘I would never tell this to my school or even my friends.’ I even heard someone in my family group say ‘I feel like you guys know me better than my closest friends.’ Creating a no-judgement zone allows people to become more vulnerable — to talk about who they are and their opinions without being nervous or afraid. Meeting so many different people really broadens your worldview.” — Quinn Roes ‘19
GLSEN, Resist: Youth Summit 2017 at Towson University
The GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Youth Summit is a day-long leadership and advocacy conference for LGBTQ youth leaders, GSA members, youth allies and GSA advisors. Students have an opportunity to build networks, share ideas and learn from local community leaders. Accompanied by United Spectrum Club faculty advisor and Upper School foreign language teacher Mr. Bob Campuzano, Sam Agro ‘18, Kendall Jacobsen ‘19, Sarah Peeler ‘18, and Nathan Roche ‘18 attended the conference this year. They shared their takeaways from the event:
“I went to a workshop that was about writing poetry for social rights activism. The workshop facilitator was a slam poet and started the session with a very personal poem — by the end of it my hands were shaking and I was almost in tears. Then we all wrote poems based on our own experiences and shared them with each other. Some people in my group felt cast out from society so it was intensely emotional to hear their stories. I got to be close to people that I didn’t even know from other schools and it was just really incredible.” — Nathan Roche ‘18
“The environment at these conferences is always so open and accepting. Everyone there has their own personal and unique story that inspires you and leaves you with a great sense of empathy.” — Kendall Jacobsen ‘18
Lessons of the Shoah at John Carroll School
Lessons of the Shoah is a day of exploration and dialogue using the Holocaust and its lessons as a starting point to encourage tolerance, understanding, and respect among students of diverse backgrounds. Courtney Freeman ‘18 and Gabby Ciraolo ‘18 attended the conference with Upper School Dean of Students Mr. Marc Buckley.
“The theme of the day was all about resistance. We learned about subtle ways that prisoners during that time would resist, through singing songs or even turning a letter upside down on a sign at the entrance to the camp. We talked about how those small acts of resistance can make a difference and connected that to how people resist today. It was a good conference overall.” — Courtney Freeman ‘18
Summit on Sexual Assault and Consent at Georgetown Country Day School
The Summit is a day of education with the purpose of raising awareness around issues of sexual assault and misconduct, creating a culture of consent, fostering dialogue, and sharing resources. Annie Bennett ‘19, Courtney Freeman ‘18, Yasmeen Meek ‘18, Gabby Ciraolo ‘18 and Marah Vain-Callahan ‘19 attended the conference with Upper School counselor Ms. Sam Straub (faculty advisor for Umbrella Club) and Upper School math and science teacher Mr. Alan Kraut (faculty advisor for SWAG, Supporting Women Across the Globe).
“At the beginning of the conference we met some of the speakers from PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment). They had all been sexually assaulted and shared their stories with us. It was a very emotional experience — there was a lot of diversity with regard to the different types of stories and the different types of victims.” — Annie Bennett ‘18
“I’m really glad I went because it’s a heavy and emotional topic but we left the conference feeling really positive and change-oriented. I learned a lot of tools and very concrete ways that we can change the culture of sexual assault. And I’m really excited to share that with our community. There is a lot to be done and there is a lot that we can do and it starts with each one of us individually.” — Yasmeen Meek ‘18
Bringing it Back Home
One of our goals as a school is to be an inclusive community where each person is welcomed and affirmed. In order for us to realize that vision, we encourage our students and faculty to participate in and sustain a vibrant exchange of ideas and perspectives. These conferences are just one way for our students to connect with the world outside of Severn, develop empathy and compassion for others, and improve their leadership skills all within the framework of building a stronger community at home.
“These conferences are opportunities for personal growth and community connection outside of our school. They provide a chance for our students to get out there and interact with kids at other schools who may not have had the same experiences we have. I am grateful that our students go to these conferences to represent Severn and take part in that larger conversation. They discuss these ideas, bring them back and help make us the best community that we can be.” — Upper School Head Ms. Bea Fuller
For students that want to get involved, there are a few more opportunities this year.
Upper School Leadership Lab on Saturday, January 6, 2018 at Severn. Taking ideas from both the fall Leadership Lab and these conferences, students will meet plan second-semester activities tied to our theme of unity and to work on an annual upper school program built on activities gleaned from the SLDC conferences.
Diversity in the DMV 2018: A Conference for Students and Educators at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac Maryland on February 23, 2018. For students and educators, this is a day of engagement, learning, networking, and planning for our own development and our school's efforts in diversity and inclusion.
Making Schools Safe for Students, Faculty, and Staff presented by AIMS at Roland Park Country School on February 2, 2018. This is a conference that promotes inclusion and support for LGBTQ student groups.