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JEDI in the Classroom: Belonging
Veronica Gillispie-Bell and Our StG Faculty

When reduced to its essence, JEDI at StG is belonging. It is ensuring and reinforcing that every child feels safe, valued, included and supported at St. George’s. As parents, this gives us the confidence that each of our children is loved for who they are and feels a sense of belonging every day they walk through the doors of their classes. Our faculty, staff and administration do a wonderful job of weaving the principles of JEDI into the fabric of StG, of instilling in our children the values that recognize the dignity and worth of every human being. 

 

Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell is the mother to Gregory, a 4th grader, and wife to Troy Bell. She is a Board Certified OBGYN and practices at Ochsner Health. Among her many roles, she has focused on improving health equity not only at Ochsner but for birthing persons across the state of Louisiana, and nationally. She has a Certification in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University and serves on both the Health Disparities Task Force and the Steering Committee for the Ochsner/Xavier Center of Health Equity and Research.

 

When reduced to its essence, JEDI at StG is belonging. It is ensuring and reinforcing that every child feels safe, valued, included and supported at St. George’s. As parents, this gives us the confidence that each of our children is loved for who they are and feels a sense of belonging every day they walk through the doors of their classes. Our faculty, staff and administration do a wonderful job of weaving the principles of JEDI into the fabric of StG, of instilling in our children the values that recognize the dignity and worth of every human being. 

In this quarter’s JEDI Blog, we bring to you some of the wonderful activities happening in and around the classrooms of StG:

 

Belonging means, “Feeling like an accepted and valued member of a community."  Lili Maki, Early Childhood School Counselor

In Kindness Class and Life Skills Class, students are identifying, exploring and celebrating our differences. This includes reading books with lessons that show people of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds. This leads to honest conversations with students about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, while helping students explore their identity and communicate with each other respectfully and kindly. All of this exploration is done in a spirit of empathy, and the students practice how to be empathic with one another.


Belonging means, “The sense of knowing that you matter and that you are seen and heard by those around you."  Karin Sandstrand, Pre-K3 Small Group Instructor

In the Lotus Room, a small-group meeting space in the Michael R. Boh Early Childhood Center, belonging starts with physical touch. Before entering the classroom, each student performs the “Lotus Room handshake.” This helps students and teachers to focus, connect and create a sense of belonging. Before playtime, they meet around the table and read out loud their daily affirmations, emphasizing that in order to be kind to friends, we must also be kind to ourselves. As a group, they talk about words that describe who they are on the inside, about what they love to do as a family, how we are the same or different as the people in our family—an exercise that acknowledges and celebrates our differences. 


Belonging means, “Fitting in and feeling valued by a group."  Audrey Isaac, Middle School Science Teacher

In Middle School Science instruction and curriculum, Ms. Isaac strives for all students to be active participants. She wants all students to understand their connections to the natural world. When teaching patterns of heredity in 8th grade science, she has stopped using traditional labs and methods so as to be more inclusive of all students. She states, “In my early years teaching, I would have students explore the genetics of their family, but this method isolated students with nontraditional families, such as adopted students, students in single-parent households and students with LGBTQ parents. I now utilize labs and examples that are independent of an individual's home.” As an example, students learn how to identify blood types using synthetic samples and then create mathematical models of heredity in Punnett Squares. This experience opens discussion of the importance of understanding blood types in the medical profession and why donating blood can be a life-saving service.


“Teaching and learning belongs to all."  Danielle Lobell and Maddie Vega, Pre-K3 Magnolia Room Teachers

This past fall the Pre-K3 Magnolia classroom enjoyed digging deeper into a shared interest—visiting the dentist and caring for our teeth. After collecting background knowledge and our questions, it was time to investigate and find the answers to our wonderings. One of the many ways we find answers in Project Approach curriculum is by inviting experts to share their unique expertise with the class. Over the course of our Dentist project, we had over 20 experts! We had a grown up with braces visit, big sisters with loose teeth visit and a real Dentist, Dr. Shelton! We even had seven-month-old Hank visit with his teacher to show us his first teeth breaking through. Each of our students had the opportunity to stand up in front of the class and proudly present their personal connections with teeth and dentists with their friends. We walked together to visit our neighboring dentist on Magazine Street. By the end of our project, the Magnolias had learned plenty about teeth and the dentist. Furthermore, they learned that teachers are not the only ones who can teach; no matter what you look like, your gender or even your age, your perspective matters and is worth listening to. At three and four years of age, they’ve learned that at StG, teaching and learning belongs to everyone.


Belonging means, “To feel safe, heard and truly seen as an individual but with the acceptance to be part of something bigger than you. It means to be a part of a community where everyone uses their strengths to uphold the structure of that community. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and to truly feel the sense of belonging, it means that those weaknesses are seen as something that defines you as a person, but something that you feel empowered to work on and grow in."  Layla Sutton, Lower School Science and Middle School Band Teacher

In Middle School Band and Lower School Science, belonging in the classroom means that, no matter what, every child is celebrated for being their incredibly unique selves. As an example, Ms. Sutton allows her students to have alternatives to writing for their assessments. Students are welcome to draw diagrams to demonstrate content knowledge and present this so that they can still feel empowered in the classroom if they are struggling with spelling or forming a sentence. Science can have difficult vocabulary that many lower school students struggle with and can make students give up long before their love of learning in science is fostered. Ms. Sutton also wants to honor the wonder and inquiries of all of her students. In the classroom’s book, called the “Big Book of Questions,” students can add their big questions about the world and work together to find the answers. This type of collaboration helps practice the scientific method in most cases, promotes discussion and helps every student feel like they can speak up about any questions they may have. Students love to have their questions and answers recorded in this book, and it has created a great culture for the classroom. In the classroom, Ms. Sutton also likes to move the seating arrangements around often so students can have exposure to all of their classmates in group and collaborative projects. “It’s nice to see how these changes demonstrate to our students that they can adapt to different ways of thought, creativity, problem solving and collaboration when they are in new groups.”

In band, there are varying levels of ability depending on instrument, age, physical development and more. All students in the band, despite their current playing ability, are welcome to participate, and music is rewritten to honor where they are in the process.


Belonging is “feeling accepted and supported." 
Annie Curry, Middle School Language Arts Teacher

In ELA 5th, 6th and 7th grade, during book discussions, students learn that someone with a different viewpoint or perspective provides a greater depth of meaning for all of us, or it can provide an opening for academic debate; therefore, we embrace differences in opinion because it makes for livelier discussions.


Belonging means, “Feeling safe, seen and valued in your community. We can work toward a culture of belonging by acknowledging and celebrating the differences that make us who we are." 
Emily Jordan, Librarian

In the Library, students have the opportunity to explore the rich diversity that exists in the world and in our classrooms through books. During the holiday season, the students read stories about various religious traditions and cultures, including The Christmas Mitzvah, Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa, and Miracle on 133rd Street!


Belonging is, “Representation of different cultural traditions/histories/norms in the classroom." 
Sidney Morgan, Early Childhood Speech-Language Pathologist

In speech/language therapy, the students have talked about the different ways their families celebrate the holidays, read a story that included different holiday traditions and colored an image of their choice representing their favorite holiday that they learned about from the story (i.e., Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas).

 

 

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