2017 Annual Appeal
As I write this letter, thirteen Division 1 students are sitting in their Humanities class and writing their own letters to students in Ozark, Arkansas, who will write letters in return. This exchange started the first day of school and will continue until the end of the year. In their letters, students are exploring questions such as “What does it mean to be American and to have American values?” and “Do you see great differences between the wealthy and the poor in your community?” In taking the time to write letters on these questions and exchange ideas with students from a distant community, students begin the difficult work of humanizing “the other.”
When considering what new project to implement this year in her Heroes and Villains class, Catherine Epstein was struck by the discord sown by the recent presidential election, and the resulting distress in her classroom. This spring, the educational non-profit Facing History and Ourselves put out a call for applications to their Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grant. Their 2017 theme was “hard empathy,” or empathy for those with whom we don’t easily relate. Catherine’s project matches students from very different communities and promotes a series of authentic interactions, building their capacity for perspective-taking and having difficult conversations. Catherine submitted her idea and won one of only two Grand Finalist grants, which will lead her materials to be disseminated to classrooms nationwide in the spring of 2018.
“Can I ask who her parents voted for?” was one of the first question Meridian students asked when Catherine introduced the project to them. This type of direct confrontation is not uncommon today in both adults and youth, but trying to foster understanding does not start with politics. When students in Ozark received their first letters, they commented that they had never had a pen pal before, but had always wanted one. One student remarked, "No one has ever sent me a letter!”
Since these initial reactions, students have explored new themes with each other in each letter. They began by writing about family (“I have two moms and I’m an only child”), place (“I live in the city, so people don’t really own land. We measure in square feet, not acres”), and class (“Poor kids get treated wrong here, but kids with money get treated like they’re the queen or something”). It’s these types of conversations that help all of us understand people as people first, rather than defining them in terms of their politics.
Catherine, like many of Meridian’s teachers, is playing the long game. She is working alongside a teaching staff that is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of citizens capable of investigating complex issues, being compassionate, working collaboratively, and solving problems. Catherine was awarded a grant to support this work, but that small grant covers just a fraction of the award-winning, capacity-building curriculum that Meridian teachers develop every day.
Please take a moment and give to support the work of our teachers. Your gift will help Meridian teachers pursue professional development during the year and the summer through travel and study, and it will pay for classroom equipment that students use every day.
Please give what you can, and help Meridian teachers continue to enhance their classes and keep them relevant in a changing world.
Head of School