Sixth graders to explore identity and social justice in new seminar

Nishtha Sharma, Staff Writer

Starting next week, the sixth graders will partake in a semester-long course called Seminar on Identity (SOI), a new addition to their curriculum. The new course will replace the old Life Skills course, which has now been incorporated into advisory.

SOI was first introduced two years ago to the 11th grade curriculum. “We’re excited to bring a version of this curriculum to the MD, where many students are already exploring these topics,” Office of Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity Associate Sharina Gordon said. “We hope SOI can help provide structure at an important transition point for our students.”

“I would like to see the sixth graders explore who they are, understand a bit more about who their classmates are, and give them some vocabulary to talk about identity,” Middle Division History teacher Caitlin Hickerson, who will be co-teaching one of the classes, said.

The new seminar is completely different from the sixth grade Life Skills course, and it will be replacing it in its time slot, Gordon said.

“SOI aims to foster an understanding of identity at the individual level, to jumpstart discussion of identity at the structural level, and to identify tools to begin to respond to injustice,” Gordon said.

The class will provide the foundation for students to begin examining the relationship between identity, social-emotional awareness and ally-ship, she said.

“We’re fortunate to have the resources to introduce a course to our sixth graders that explores the intersection of gender and race and so much more,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said. “Life in the middle is about to take a huge and purposeful step forward as we continue to prepare our students to learn and grow in an increasingly diverse and inclusive world.”

Rena Salsberg (6), believe social justice is interesting, she said. “I’m happy to take the course.”

The first half of the course will involve students delving into identity formation and starting to build the foundation for deeper conversations, Gordon said.

Later on, students will “examine the intersections of gender and race through readings, film screenings and open dialogue,” she said. “The course will wrap up with ally-ship and possibilities of what to do next.”

“I hope that [the course] will encourage more informal conversations about how we can be authentic and how we can welcome others who are living authentically as well,” Hickerson said.

“I’m actually really excited to be able to learn more about social justice,” Madison Mitchell (6) said. To her, social justice means having the opportunity to give to other people, something she looks forward to hearing more about, she said.

Dani Brooks (6) thinks learning about social justice and identity can be a good time to reflect on the community, she said. “I think this class can be really thoughtful,” she said.

While there is no current plan to incorporate SOI into the seventh or eighth grade curriculums, eighth graders will still have the opportunity to take an elective offered by the ICIE that discusses identity and social media, Gordon said.

“Seventh graders are also encouraged to continue exploring these topics through the lens of other academic courses, like English, history, and science,” Gordon said. “Sixth grade SOI is starting as a pilot and then we’ll reassess next steps.”