Inly Middle School students (from left), Jonah Lee, Emma Kahn, Charlie McDonald, Quentin Hill, Caroline Leta, Dean Chamberlin, and John McNeil, attended the AISNE Middle School Student Diversity Conference on Saturday, November 16 at the Fenn School in Concord, MA. The theme of this year’s conference was “We Are All Connected” and the objective was to help middle school students better understand themselves and their peers through reflection, dialogue, and leadership opportunities.
The keynote speaker at the conference was John Sharon. Born with a rare physical disability called arthrogryposis, Sharon’s belief is that “everyone is the same, but I’m just a little different.” His speech, titled “We Need Each Other,” explored the human need for connection and challenged common assumptions about disability, encouraging the audience to embrace disability as an absolutely vital part of what it means to be fully human. Tapping into stories from his own life and his extensive experience as a teacher in independent schools, John asked the audience to see disability as crucial to the success of diversity efforts in schools.
The workshops at the event included Capoeira (Brazilian Martial Arts); The Delight of Japan-Sushi Making; Fencing and its Life Lessons; Future Global Leaders; Why We Love Rebels: Music, Identity and Social Climate; Our Common DNA Heritage; Self-Expression through Street Dancing; Learn to Salsa Dance; Cultural Identity Collaging; The Art of Origami Making; I am Cambodia; Introduction to Hip Hop Dancing; The Irish Folk Way: Listening, Learning, & Performing Music & Stories from the Heart; and Media Literacy.
Dean Chamberlin, who attended the “Our Common DNA Heritage” workshop, said “it was really interesting to learn that 99.9% of humans have the exact same DNA, which basically means that, at our core, we are all the same.”
Quentin Hill attended the “Why We Love Rebels: Music, Identity and Social Climate” workshop and found it fascinating to think about the rebels within our society who were at one time the minority but became the majority. “Take the Rolling Stones, for example,” Quentin said, “at first, there was no one like them, but now, years later, rock & roll is actually pretty mainstream.”
Emma Kahn attended the “Cultural Identity Collaging” workshop. “The workshop was really interesting because mask-making is an old tradition in many cultures,” said Kahn, “and it communicates a lot about an individual and a community’s personality.”
“I really appreciated how the conference talked about this idea of ‘the world of same’ versus ‘the world of different,’” said Caroline Leta.
“It’s always interesting to go to these conferences and meet other students from other schools,” said Charlie McDonald.
John McNeil reflected, “I really appreciated how the conference made us think about the importance of being sensitive to people’s differences. We did an exercise where we had to ask other students about themselves and we talked about how not everyone wants to be judged by how they look or act. I think we all felt that we could relate to feeling like an outsider at some point in our lives and tapping into that can really help us be more sensitive to how other might feel.”