In our ongoing consideration of “how the needs of society should determine the work of [our] school,” Upper School students and teachers have recently embarked in a thoughtful week-long series of curricular experiences to take a closer look at the role gender plays within the school and in society.
Orchestrated in response to a recent school climate survey reflecting how gender impacts the Upper School student experience, Parker’s inaugural “Gender Week” initiative was led by a team of Upper School faculty Grade Heads, along with Upper School Dean of Student Life Chris Bielizna and Upper School Head Justin Brandon, who spent four months thoughtfully brainstorming, researching and planning for this event.
The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), our partnering organization for the week, conducted a workshop for Upper School faculty to provide the educational framework that CAASE representatives planned to use with students during the week. This workshop also proved to be invaluable in helping faculty members develop unique workshops for students to attend throughout the week, including sessions on The Economics of Gender, Toxic Masculinity, The History of Female Athletes and Femininity, The Male Gaze and more.
At an initial gathering in the Upper School, Grade Heads discussed the plan for the week and reminded all to keep in mind the following norms as they began their work:
- Think well of each other.
- Understand the difference between intent vs. impact.
- Address the ideas, not the person; personalize your statements.
- Avoid assumptions; ask questions.
- Share the space.
- Be here, and be present.
- Keep confidentiality.
- Expect unfinished business.
After the opening assembly, students adhered to a special schedule, attending truncated versions of their usual classes in the mornings and devoting their afternoons to gender-based work.
During the five-day span, 350 Upper School students participated in 20 unique and timely faculty-led workshops in addition to sessions led by representatives from CAASE and Chicago Women’s Health Center (CWHC) to further their familiarity and understanding of a range of gender-sensitive topics. Faculty debriefed on progress each day after dismissal, refining and fine-tuning their workshops and supporting one another in the important and difficult work at hand.
In an effort to include parents/guardians in this initiative, the CAASE Prevention Manager Shalini Mirpuri facilitated an evening workshop that offered tangible ways to facilitate dialogue with children on healthy relationships, sexual assault, consent and other topics.
In the end, this first effort at a dedicated learning experience focusing on gender education in the Upper School proved to be a great starting point. Students felt pushed and inspired by the conversations and ideas, and faculty and students had the time and space to shine a light on issues that cannot be addressed during a regular school week.
Upper School Head Justin Brandon shared, “This week left me exhausted and proud to be a part of a community that concentrated on the student experience in such a thoughtful manner.”
All agreed that this work is only the beginning.