With the 8th grade theater production going up tonight, they needed a solid chunk of two hours this morning to run the play in costume start to finish, debrief with their theater teachers, and go back over any scenes that needed work. This meant, of course, that we needed something to do with the 7th graders for that same long block. Happily (and to no one’s surprise), Sara (their art teacher) was willing to take them for the whole time. She had moved a large pedal loom into one of the classrooms, and brought up all the hand looms and supplies. The students were excited this morning to have so much time in art, being particularly delighted that they had been allowed to bring in iPods and speakers to play music during class; I shared that with Sara as I thanked her after homeroom.
When I got back from a meeting, I heard a melody coming from the classroom. Softly but clearly, they were singing along to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz: “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing ay-oh, gotta let go. I wanna celebrate and live my life, singing ay-oh, baby let’s go… I gonna take it all like. I’m gonna be the last one standing. Cause I, I, I believe it. And I, I, I, I just want it all, I just want it all, I’m gonna put my hands in the air…” They sounded so beautiful I had to glance in the classroom. There, I saw one of them seated at the big loom while all the others were sitting around the table, working and singing as Sara looked on and occasionally gave advice. It was an extraordinarily peaceful moment, and somehow symbolized how this class has come together.
Yesterday in Humanities 7, I gave them the task of coming up with a skit showing what would happen if Jessica (the badly burned and disfigured title character of Firegirl) were to join their class. A number of them expressed concern that their skit would be boring “because we’d all be nice to her.” One group even thought that my topic had been playful in the first place. In the end, one group decided that one of the kids would play a character utterly unlike herself, another group slipped in one of the other characters from the book, and one group simply redid the topic as if they all were characters in the book.
I am so impressed by that level of confidence in how welcoming and accepting they are, and so delighted that they have the courage to say it. At the same time, I can’t help but think that when they saw a Rachel Simmons video on “Curse of the Good Girl,” they asked why we couldn’t read that for our next morning reading book. That is going to start later on today, and as we work through it, part of our discussion will of necessity be how they experience pressure to be nice and when it might actually be to their benefit not to conform to the exacting standards of good girl behavior. Their own words describing good girls in an activity last week show this conflict clearly – “doing what’s expected” – “popular” – “never in trouble” – “never arguing” – “never speaking out” – “depends on perspective” – “honesty” – “who they want to be.” I pointed out that some if not all of them were in a truly impossible situation – feeling pressure to simultaneously “be a good girl” and “be yourself.” Not that they aren’t wonderful girls – I give thanks every day that I get to work with them – but the person who conforms to all the stereotypes of a good girl is most likely non-existent.
But as I said, I do give thanks every day that I get to work with these students, and that I feel genuinely happy to see each of them every day (even if some days I also worry about them). I know they feel a strong connection to their teachers as well as each other, and that they also feel well supported by upper school students. It’s been a great first trimester, and I am incredibly grateful for all that everybody in our community – faculty, staff, parents, and especially students – have done to help bring about these successes. This groundwork will pay off not just through the year but throughout these girls’ time at Stoneleigh-Burnham, and perhaps, just maybe, throughout their lives.