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Threads: Listening Distance Spring 2020 Edition of George School's Inclusion Newsletter

From the Inclusion Desk

This spring, the Student Inclusion Committee was set to engage the George School community with an initiative we were calling “The 5-Word Memoir.” Each participating person would have been invited/challenged to capture the essence of their life in five words on a piece of fabric, which would be sewn together with other pieces to craft a displayable quilt of stories. Given our current givens, I have wondered if/how my five words have changed. Amidst the uncertainty, though, I am taken by one word that, for me, likely remains – listen(er).

Part directive, part posture, the task of “listen(er)” is to be in position to receive – a message, an invitation, clarity, more. As we take in the loud and soft, the spoken and the not, the within and the without, listening shows itself to be an art that is sometimes an end unto itself and other times a means that informs further action. In our world that sometimes feels full of noise, our current global health crisis has sharpened some of what might warrant a listen.

“Being together” sounds different. “Sheltering in place” rings uncomfortable or impossible depending on our circumstances. “Essential” takes on new meaning, particularly when it’s necessarily coupled with exposure. “Global citizenship” perhaps resonates less abstractly these days. I am learning that these peculiar times have a way of making the familiar sound strange, the whisper heartier, and the marginal matter. Yet, some of us may experience degrees of deafness.

Nevertheless, the listening task remains to be in position to receive, and this edition of Threads invites you to do just that. Herein are voices from the George School community reflecting on aspects of the soundscape in these peculiar, pithy days. In addition to images and words, this edition of Threads, whose theme is “Listening Distance,” has its own playlist to enhance your newsletter experience. Consider listening to the selections as you take in this edition of Threads.

Our journey begins with an ekphrastic poem that has been created from George School staff and faculty who submitted individual (poetic) reflections in response to five curated images (see below) that may reflect some aspect of our current givens. The visuals create the context for the piece “Nevertheless,” which sets the tone for “Threads: Listening Distance.”

Enjoy the experience.

Keep well,

Marcus Ingram, Inclusion Director

Artwork Credit: (Left Column) Prisoners Exercising, 1890, Vincent van Gogh; Plaza Fiesta Mural, Atlanta, GA (Right Column) Destination Unknown, 1979, Ernie Barnes; Abstract 2016-01, Yu Youhan; The Force of Nature II, 2011, Lorenzo Quinn

“Nevertheless”

A George School Ekphrastic Poem

I.

The 2020 March had its own cadence.

Motions, familiar. Rhythms, not so much.

History collided with the now.

Novel forces and flows invited endless circles and no resolution.

It seemed everything changed. Yet, the cherry blossoms still burst forth.

II.

Perhaps rhythms disrupted CAN be reimagined.

Do we need to see,

do we need to touch,

in order to love?

Could the physical space, so far apart, be what brings us together?

Shut-in or cloistered?!

III.

This is not merely in our minds, yet we live in our heads.

Whether a prisoner or guardian of our thoughts, are we not all captive?

Can the rhythms be reimagined?

From all four corners of the Earth,

fear and grief come like thieves in the night.

Though I hang onto the world, life is slipping from my hands…

IV.

Recreate thy Self?...

each step is precious risk.

A colorful parade of unanswered, sequenced fear.

The 2020 March had its own cadence.

(Our) Shadows illuminate and dissipate.

How disorienting to feel connected and disconnected.

Yet, the cherry blossoms burst forth.

“Mind Well”

A Series of Multidisciplinary Collaborations

In term three, George School teachers across academic departments were invited to partner with the Inclusion portfolio to engage ideas of community wellness in a time of quarantine, anxiety, and uncertainty. Deliverables were produced in various mediums, and it is a delight to share a selection of them with you.

Jada Wooten ’20 authored the monologue “True Colors” for her IB HL World Literature: Writers Focus course. In it, Jada helps her audience peek into the world of a 70-year-old grandparent during quarantine by giving voice to a phone conversation with her eldest daughter. The piece offers commentary on generational identity, family politics, and the intersections of race and socioeconomic status. Experience the monologue here.

In Meredith Alford’s IB SL Global Politics course, students were introduced to content about globalization and cultural intelligence, and they were challenged to consider the extent to which global cooperation is necessary and possible. Curated selections awash with wisdom await you here.

Images sourced from Danielle Picard-Sheehan’s various visual arts classes help visually ground this edition of Threads. Students were invited to pay attention to where they were in the world – physically and otherwise – and seek to capture images that reflect those places. Herein is an embarrassment of visual riches.

An Eye Full: A Visual Album

Images produced by Danielle Picard-Sheehan’s Photography, Advanced Photography, and Digital Imaging & Design classes: Gemma Hutton ’22, Maxwell Forstein ’23, Cecilia Wang ’22, Emmett Schmucker ’23, Zachary Desrosiers-Victorin ’21, Sophia Sharareh ’21, Mia Armbruster ’21, Melissa Ford ’21, Michelle Kalunda ’21, Rachel Brown ’20, David Shields ’23, Jacob Sklar ’21, Sophia Friedman ’21, Gigi Palladino ’23, Alexis Semidey-Martinez ’21, Derek Denoon ’23, and Preston Melchior-Fisher ’20.

“Indeed Global”

Celebrating the George School – M-PESA Foundation Academy Partnership

In August 2018, Grace Karanja ’20 and Walter Wagude ’20 arrived at George School as the inaugural cohort of an institutional partnership with Kenya’s M-PESA Foundation Academy. Participating students live and learn on the campus of George School for grades eleven and twelve, and they earn diplomas from both schools. The cohort has grown to include Risper Mwingirwa ’21 and Edwin Onyango ’21, and it will remain at four into the future.

As Walter and Grace reflect on their graduation ceremonies at M-PESA in January and anticipate commencement exercises at George School in late May, they were eager to share about their experiences to date. Their perspectives are endearing; quotable quotes are below. Too, you may enjoy this recent Newsroom interview featuring Walter.

“I feel privileged, and I am grateful that I got to have this experience; sometimes it feels like a dream that I don’t want to wake up from…I have grown so much as a person; being miles away from home I have learnt how to take care of myself. I have become more assertive and gained so much self-control. I have become more confident and learnt how to express my feelings and let my voice be heard.” — Grace Karanja ’20

“The learning process for me at George School has been transformative. I have become more reflective and passionate [about the] material that I learn and [it has] made me come out of my comfort zone.” —Walter Wagude ’20

“I miss being able to speak Swahili or my Mother Tongue everywhere.” —Grace Karanja ’20
“Even though George School [is] very welcoming, I still miss home and M-PESA Foundation Academy. Just like George School, M-PESA has a strong sense of community. [Also,] the food is really different, and it took me time to start trying different types of food and come up with new favorites.” —Walter Wagude ’20
“A big heartfelt THANK YOU for all the support, love and care you have shown to us. [Many] of you became family and have made [George School] feel like home…” —Grace Karanja ’20

“Viral Technology”

Engaging IT with Zoë Hayden

When physical distancing became more of the norm worldwide in March 2020, much of community-oriented life as we knew it transferred to a virtual platform aided by information technology (IT). While it is right to interrogate the digital divide that the current global pandemic exposes, it is also an appropriate moment to reflect on the ways in which IT has enhanced society. Threads invited Zoë Hayden, IT Support Analyst & Event Technology Coordinator at George School, to reflect on her and her industry’s work in these difficult, perhaps creative days.

Sound Bytes from the Class of 2020

The Student Inclusion Committee was formed in 2018 with twenty-three students to support, inform, and in some ways, lead the work of the George School Inclusion portfolio. Now at 40 members representing all grade levels, the group was instrumental in bringing the large-scale public art build Project Unity to George School, which also inspired the creation of Threads. This academic year, members of the committee invested energy into their respective working groups in terms one and two, but delivery on some of their initiatives has been halted because of a move to a virtual school in term three.

Nonetheless, I asked committee members in the Class of 2020 to reflect on the prompt, “What have you heard that you wish others to hear?” Responses primarily gravitated around expressing gratitude to various (adult) members of the George School community for their investment in the lives of young people, coupled with encouragement to seek out available resources. Two particularly resonant quotes follow:

“The one thing that I wish others to hear is that you are your own advocate and [you] should utilize your resources…[I have] realized that I am capable of asking for help and putting in the work that I need to succeed…[Others] can walk with you to make sure you succeed.” —Edithe Rose Niyogushima ’20
As teenagers, we sometimes think that we must have our life together or that we can handle everything on our own…You don’t need to suffer alone…Knowing when to seek others’ advice, I think, [is] a form of self-care.” —Lexie Osbourne ’20

“Reflecting Ramadan”

Acumens from Kareem Afzal ’93, P ’21, ’23, and George School Board Member

Life’s challenges have a way of inspiring a search for meaning. And the world’s great religious traditions have consistently been at the ready to offer wisdom, direction, and solace. Regardless of whether we consider the business of faith an essential service, much can be gained by paying attention to the ways in which organized religion seeks to respond to the needs of its immediate and extended communities. The religious calendar continues, holy days remain among us, and ritual seems to be gaining newfound significance. Threads invited George School alumnus, parent, and board member Kareem Afzal to reflect on his faith during this month of Ramadan.

A Reflection by Charisse Smith P ’20

Parents’ Association Representative to the Inclusion Oversight Committee of the George School Board

“What type of listener have I been?”

When asked to reflect on my experience as the parent of a member of George School’s Class of 2020, the question above gripped me. As an educator of young children, I celebrated my ability to transfer my active listening skills to conversations with my teenage son. Given the daily hustle and bustle of a GS student’s life, I checked in periodically throughout the day and tried to engage during pick-ups and drop-offs asking: “How are things?”; “What time is practice over?”; “Did you check in with your teacher?”

Brief as these moments were, I wanted to ask the “right” clarifying questions to keep up with my busy teenager’s schedule and social life without over-stepping those “imaginary” bounds imposed on parents. There were memorable conversations where I laughed and listened to him talk about his special moments at the junior prom, winter formal, his brief stint as the school mascot, and the absolute craziness of the “We Are the World” Dance. There were extremely sad moments in which I needed to quiet my questions and just listen.

Reflecting on my time as a parent of a current George School Senior, I realize that my son has friends who lost parents on September 11, 2001. He has experienced the death of a very close classmate. In his high school years, he has also felt the sting of racial and gender-identity micro-aggressions. My child has experienced the fear of death and serious injury, and he has just lost the simple joys of being a Senior on campus. I cannot fix any of this, but I have learned to listen – actively, supportively.

My experiences as a George School parent have given me permission: to accept quiet; to reflect in the Light that has blessed my life; and to learn these lessons with my son as he/we move into a future.

Summer Reading

Find your Self and others in these reads suggested by members of the Student Inclusion Committee. Many thanks to Kayla McDow ’20 for spearheading this effort.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

The Mystery of the Moon Tower (The Pathfinder’s Society) by Francesco Sedita & Prescott Seraydarian ’90, Illustrated by Steve Hamaker

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Threads: Listening Distance

Email: inclusion@georgeschool.org

Phone: 215.579.6706