When our nation paused to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, The Country School was in session, celebrating its 11th annual IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Empathy, Action) Day. In the spirit of Dr. King’s devotion to nonviolence and equal rights, PreSchool-8th Grade students, faculty, and staff spent the day participating in workshops emphasizing the importance of belonging. In a letter sent to Country School families prior to IDEA Day, Assistant Head of School Beth Coyne wrote, “Research on belonging speaks to both physiological and social benefits for humans. It can inspire resilience in the face of difficult times. When children feel academic stress, a strong sense of belonging supports safe risk taking, allowing students to stretch and grow.” Belonging matters.
The day began with keynote speaker Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond, a writer and educator who is committed to storytelling in service of those whose narratives have been omitted or underrepresented. Mr. Jumoke taught 8th Grade history at The Country School and has been a visiting writer on campus, working with students of all ages. Mr. Jumoke challenged his audience to envision Dr. Martin Luther King’s notion of a “beloved community,”(common + unity) and began his speech with Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “Paul Robeson.” “We are each other’s/harvest:/we are each other’s/business:/we are each other’s/magnitude and bond,” lines that underscored the day’s theme of belonging and how our lives and futures are intertwined. “Through efforts like IDEA day, The Country School shows a continued commitment to our mission and creating an education that lasts a lifetime,” said Keith Smith, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.
The theme of belonging played out in various ways, with workshops sharing the patchwork metaphor from our all-school read, Patchwork
by Matt de la Peña, a picture book about the complexity and uniqueness of every child. As a tangible reminder of the ways we fit together, students embroidered patchwork squares to be sewn together into a larger quilt. They also created self-portraits that represented all the pieces of their identities, not just the most obvious ones. A third workshop had students practicing their active listening skills by interviewing each other–in the style of StoryCorps
–about times when they felt they belonged or when someone else helped them feel a sense of belonging.
Said John Fixx, Head of School, “The increasing diversity of The Country School community is to be welcomed and celebrated. Our school is an environment where the free exchange of ideas not only is encouraged but nurtured.” Engaging full bodies, story walk markers were placed around campus for younger students to read and experience in groups outside while older students made personal connections to feelings of belonging as individuals, peers, and colleagues by taking guided walks along the campus trails. The culminating activity was a community art piece with every member of The Country School coloring in a square on a large grid that shows how we are each one of many.
Reflecting on the day, Fixx said, “My hope is that our students daily–and maybe on IDEA Day with extra emphasis–experience this small world on campus and imagine ways to make the wider world equally welcoming, a wider place of belonging, a world in which people are valued for the content of their character.”
Founded in 1955, The Country School serves students in PreSchool-Grade 8 on its 23-acre campus in Madison. The Country School honors students’ creativity, sense of wonder, and intellectual curiosity. The school’s integrated curriculum aligns rigorous academics with a commitment to character and leadership development. Learn more at thecountryschool.org
and join us for our Winter Open House on January 22.