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Friday, 19 July 2019

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Proud to Be Me Day: Celebrating Diversity and Identity in the ISK Middle School

By Alexa P. Schmid

05/10/2019

Proud to Be Me Day: Celebrating Diversity and Identity in the ISK Middle School
Each year in January or February, the International School of Kenya celebrates International Day from PreKindergarten through Grade 12. Parents join us as the school hosts a “Parade of Flags,” where students carry flags from over 65 different countries. The event is followed by a PTO-hosted “Taste of Nations” gathering at the end of the school day. This is an exciting event that allows us to celebrate our diversity as a community. The purpose of the day is that it:

• is an opportunity for ISK’s entire student body and the greater school community to come together
• deepens student open-mindedness, tolerance, and inclusion (we believe that diversity enriches us)
• provides an opportunity for students to celebrate, acknowledge, and appreciate/respect diverse cultures, along with their dance, food, music, dress, and language
• allows students to learn about other cultures and recognize our interconnectedness and commonalities
• highlights our diversity, which we believe is special and important at ISK
• provides students with an opportunity to have pride in their own culture
• offers students a chance to have fun

This year’s theme was “Proud to Be Me,” and our middle school extended our celebration of cultural richness on International Day with an exploration of identity. Middle school students inspired this event in order to understand our diverse student body and the various aspects that make up our identity as a community. We suspended normal classes that day and middle school students rotated through different workshops related to identity. These workshops were planned and presented by students, with teacher support. The workshops focused on neurodiversity (learning differences), race, gender, and LGBTQ. Central themes were around increasing awareness and acceptance, as well as expanding a sense of belonging and community.

The purpose of these workshops was to raise awareness about different aspects of identity and how it contributes to our community’s diversity; to nurture an open mind and heart to expand our inclusive community; to increase awareness, acceptance, and a sense of belonging; and to increase sensitivity about the impact of our actions and words.
All students rotated through the following four workshops:

1. Neuro-diversity Group: Learning Differences: Inclusion everywhere and every day. This session hopes to advocate for all of the different ways people think and learn. Student and teacher presenters will elicit empathy, acceptance, and understanding through hands-on activities that support all types of learners in our school.
2. Gender: This workshop examines gender stereotypes for both boys and girls. Students also explore the topic of gender equity and look for opportunities to break down generalizations and biases.
3. Race: This workshop raises student awareness about racial identity. Students develop an understanding that we shouldn’t make assumptions based on appearances; racial identity is complex, especially in our globalized setting and in international schools such as ours, where we have many mixed-race students. This exercise underscores the dangers of generalizations and stereotypes.
4. LGBTQ: This workshop raises awareness about LGBTQ and the power of our words/actions. It also seeks to increase acceptance, respect, and safety for all members of our community.

These workshops provided an important opportunity for students to explore complex topics around identity. It is our highest priority to ensure that all students feel safe and develop a strong sense of belonging in our middle school. Raising awareness about assumptions, stereotypes, acceptance, and respect is the ongoing work that we pursue through our assemblies, advisory program, and in the classroom.

Alexa P Schmid is the Middle School Principal at the International School of Kenya. Alexa is currently working on her Doctor of Education degree from Plymouth State University, and is studying the role of leadership in promoting cultural competency and multiculturalism in international schools. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, and has worked in international schools in Egypt, India and Kenya.




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