Hewitt’s efforts to foster an appreciation for diversity and inclusivity begin in the lower school, where every student participates in Me, You, & We, a curriculum that aims to teach students in kindergarten through fourth grade how to respect one another’s unique perspectives while approaching each other with kindness and cultural awareness. I developed Hewitt’s Me, You, & We framework in collaboration with our lower school faculty members, and each lesson introduces new classroom conversations and activities that provide both “windows and mirrors” through which girls are able to consider the perspectives of others and reflect on their own experiences.
Inspired by the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, Me, You, & We aims to promote anti-bias education by exploring human diversity, building a positive sense of self, and promoting caring human connections. Supported by deliberate and scaffolded discussion prompts and scenarios that encourage self reflection, lower school students are learning to recognize unfairness and stereotypes, consider their own misconceptions, and stand up for what is right in the face of prejudice.
Consistent with the philosophy of emergent curriculum, which focuses on teachers being responsive to students’ interests, Me, You, & We is designed to further cultivate our students’ curiosity. Each Me, You, & We meeting starts with a series of carefully considered questions for the class to discuss as part of their community building efforts and/or social studies explorations. Over the course of the year these questions center around specific themes including culture and language, physical attributes and abilities, communities and class, and family structures and values. Through conversations about each of these topics, teachers are able to identify what their students already know about their various social identities (e.g. ability, beliefs, culture, ethnicity, family composition, gender, language, race, religion, socioeconomic class, etc. ) and discern misinformation and knowledge gaps. Generative classroom discussions, activities, and read-alouds give lower school teachers a chance to take note of discussion highlights and student questions, which they use to develop in-depth lessons that feel meaningful and personal to their students.
This year’s Me, You, & We classroom conversations began by asking lower school students questions like: “What does it mean to be a girl?” and “What do girls do?” Each class then watched and reacted to the Like A Girl video from the Always advertising campaign, which elicited a range of responses including exclamations of outrage over perceived stereotypes and notable upset that girls would be characterized as anything less than, as one second grader put it, “smart, mindful, strong, and fast.” Over the course of their developmentally appropriate conversations, each class extended their learning by coming up with their own definitions for words like “stereotype” and “assumptions.” To help reinforce these concepts, each class was also invited to take stock of their individual classroom libraries, noticing books that had characters who looked or lived the way they do as well as those that presented negative depictions or stereotypes about different people. The connections and observations the girls were able to make during these activities proved to be both affirming and empowering for them.
According to Julie Olsen Edwards and Louise Derman-Sparks, the authors of Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, “Adults have the power to create, to teach, to maintain bias - and to eliminate it.” As such, the lower school faculty members leading Me, You, & We devote time to reflecting and thinking critically about their own behaviors, beliefs, and biases as they apply to a given discussion. During a reflection on the topic of gender and stereotypes, one classroom teacher noted, “...it makes me wonder what ideas and/or limits are buried in my mind from growing up.” Another shared, “A lot of students think that girls are meant to be certain things and vice versa. I was proud when other students spoke up against those stereotypes.” For a community of educators who value lifelong learning, Me, You, & We is a wonderful way to model for students what it means to be curious and feel comfortable asking questions that may not be easy to answer. Me, You, & We engages our youngest girls in a developmentally appropriate introduction to important diversity and inclusivity themes, while also preparing them to get involved in our middle and upper school efforts to promote equity awareness and social justice activism.