Dear Damascus Community,

 

On June 12 and 13, 2017, the students and staff at Damascus High School participated in a school-wide Study Circle. We were divided into 47 groups to be able to build relationships among the team members and have meaningful dialogue about our experiences at Damascus. Each of the groups was led by a student and a staff facilitator. The MCPS Study Circles team in the Equity Unit helped us to create the activities for the two days. I shared a letter with you in May before the event, and now I would like to share a summary of our activities and the students’ experiences.

 

Our goals for the two days were to use the Study Circle process to:

  • create a culture of open dialogue to strengthen the school community,
  • evaluate how well our actions support our school values and how we can continue to improve, and
  • establish a structure for ongoing dialogue about school, local and national issues.

 

To accomplish these goals, we engaged in a variety of activities. These included:

  • community-building activities to get to know the members of the group,
  • sharing a significant personal, local, or national event that impacted us to know how our experiences have shaped who we are today,
  • watching the video “The Lie,” created by the students at Stedwick Elementary School, to discuss if and how stereotypes impact us,
  • learning the difference between dialogue and debate to be able to learn from people who have a perspective different from our own, and
  • analyzing our school core values to determine what actions the students recommend we take to continue to improve the climate of our school.

 

This was a major undertaking to organize, and I am so proud of our students and staff who engaged fully in the discussions. On the second day, we had 68% of our students participating in the School Cohorts. Looking to next fall, these students are our leaders in fulfilling the potential for these smaller learning communities. On a personal note, I have really enjoyed hearing from staff about some of the amazing students they met through this process whom they would never have had the chance to know otherwise. We have so many kind, thoughtful and positive leaders in our school. I love that these students were able to be recognized and were able to shine in this work.

 

The school leadership team met this week to debrief our experiences with the development of the School Cohorts, and we identified some considerations for planning the next steps for the fall. Thank you to those students and parents who provided us with upgrades, as well!

 

We gathered a variety of feedback from the students over the course of the two days. At the end of day one and day two, we asked students if “Today’s session was worth the time.” The results were:

 

Day One:

Today’s session was worth the time:

 

1  Strongly Disagree

8.5%

2  Disagree

9%

3  Neutral

24%

4  Agree

36%

5  Strongly Agree

24%

 

Day Two

Today’s session was worth the time:

 

1  Strongly Disagree

3.5%

2  Disagree

3.5%

3  Neutral

17%

4  Agree

36%

5  Strongly Agree

39%

 

We also asked students to share what they liked best about the activities. Below is a sample of some of the responses:

  • “The respect people gave to each individual when they were speaking.”
  • “We came away with actual strategies and a vision we can follow.”
  • “I was very pleased that we were able to tackle issues that very directly impact our lives by brainstorming solutions to some problems relating to the school.”
  • “I liked that I got to learn many new things about different cultures. I liked that the facilitators were willing to listen to the students’ opinions.”
  • “I liked getting to talk to people I normally wouldn't have and build relationships with people outside of my immediate friend group and classes.”

 

When we asked students what they are taking away from the experience, examples of what they shared are:

  • “Everyone has their own problems going on, and you need to remember that before you judge them.”
  • “We should be discussing how to integrate everyone into our community and not leave anyone out.”
  • “Teachers are people too.”
  • “Loving America means loving Americans. Loving America isn’t possible without loving the people in it.”
  • “We need to support each other, even if we have differences.”
  • “Sometimes what is seen as an argument is really just a misunderstanding.”
  • “Everyone is who they are for a reason that others may not know.”
  • “The Core Values matter. We as a school should continue to practice them/reinforce their importance/we’ll feel valued.”
  • “I am proud of Damascus for being brave enough to do this.”

The school leadership team will soon be deciding what the School Cohorts will look like for the fall, but I wanted to provide you with a short summary of the Study Circles event. The investment of two instructional days was unique to getting it started, and the structure will likely involve building a period into the day for the activities next year. At this point, we know that the School Cohorts will be discussing the summer reading assignment centered on the concept of perseverance in September. We will share more as the fall approaches!

 

Have a wonderful summer,

Jenn

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