July 2, 2020
Dear NYA Community,
As I write to you, we are busy preparing for next year and eager to gather together again as a community. As we prepare to open campus safely for all students, we also realize our view of safety must encompass protecting our students from bias. The violence we have witnessed against fellow citizens George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor continues to weigh heavily on us at NYA. Unfortunately, these tragedies are not isolated events and stand as examples that systemic racism still exists in this country. At NYA, we are challenging ourselves on how we can effect positive change and reinforce our belief that Black lives matter. NYA is ready to take a leading role in moving this conversation forward with our students. Supporting this path is not only essential to the values of respect, honesty, compassion, and responsibility that we hold dear as an institution, but it is essential to ensuring a just society.
I want to follow up on my June 2 letter with information about actions we have taken as a school and plans for how we can begin to address these topics. Along with recognizing these issues as a community at events at the end of the school year, classroom discussions took place throughout the grade levels. Students and faculty met to discuss and process the meaning of these tragic events. Faculty members and NYA’s school counselor reached out to students to check on social and emotional wellness. Departments and divisions met to discuss these issues with the goal of moving the conversations forward at NYA. This included developing reading lists from or about BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to share with the community.
This past school year, we also laid the groundwork for effectively engaging our students in these challenging discussions. We graduated our first students with the new Diploma with Distinction in Social Advocacy, a distinction designed to equip students with the leadership tools to effect positive social change. This past year, three members of NYA’s faculty participated in the Independent School Association of Northern New England’s (ISANNE) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program. This was a yearlong program designed to investigate issues of diversity within the classroom and to develop one area of focus at each school. Our cohort of educators focused on the CivilTea Program, introduced last year at NYA. The CivilTea program is a student-facilitated forum where students listen to speakers and discuss timely issues. Students learn both how to voice their opinions and serve as active listeners. It will serve as a useful forum to introduce thoughtful discussions and host speakers on issues of race and diversity at NYA.
This is certainly not enough, and we need to challenge ourselves to do more as individuals, as a school, and as a society. In the coming year, we will continue to evaluate how NYA addresses these issues and strengthen our commitment to diversity on campus. This includes building diversity on our campus, a study of how our program incorporates education about addressing racism and identifying bias, welcoming speakers, and ensuring an open dialogue on issues of justice.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently wrote, “And so this is a time for every American to speak to our unity, but to also be very cognizant of how we describe our differences, how we address our differences, and especially how we address one another with empathy.” An integral part of our mission is educating our students to be thoughtful and think critically about the world around them. As we look to effect positive change, we need to be open to different viewpoints, political views, and solutions while unifying ourselves around essential standards of justice and equality.
NYA’s program is always evolving as we strive to remain current and continue to keep our students engaged. As we educate our leaders of the future, we must remain committed to ideals of a just and fair society. I appreciate the commitment of our students, faculty, staff, trustees, families, and all of our community members as we work towards that common goal.
Head of School
Below are links to resources from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). These may be helpful in facilitating conversations at home over the summer.
How to speak to children about traumatic events:
- Talking to Children after Racial Incidents (Penn GSE)
- “George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. What Do We Tell our Children?” (USA Today)
How to teach about racism and civil unrest: