The 2020 election as a learning opportunity

The Upper School is navigating the upcoming (and highly contentious) 2020 election as a learning opportunity. We are pursuing three general goals:

  • To give student groups the opportunity to reflect on what they are learning about the candidates and to present their learning to classmates.
  • To give individual students the chance to reflect on their own political viewpoints in relation to their classmates and the country as a whole.
  • To help our students be more savvy consumers of election news by tuning them in to what to watch for as the election and its aftermath unfolds. 

We have begun the process. 

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Discovering the lizard brain in Seminar

Students in Middle School Seminar recently gained a better understanding of the form and functions of the brain stem (in Seminar, this is called the “cave brain” or “lizard brain”)—the parts of the brain that do the basic work of keeping us alive. These include automatic functions like breathing, moving , and blinking, as well as scanning for safety, subconscious behaviors, and automatic sorting/categorizing activities.

These automatic functions lead to a discussion of biases, which we all possess. Biases were useful during the early days of Homo Sapiens—the ability to quickly categorize everything allowed us to survive. In contemporary society, however, the automatic brain functions that result in biases can blossom into prejudice and discrimination. After learning how and why the brain sorts, students were introduced to tools they can use to interrupt or redirect the assumptions and impulses that can lead to discrimination against others based on race, sex, gender, class, religion, culture, and sexuality. Teacher Kate Ziminsky guided students through an activity where they categorized a variety of items (including keys, dice, game pieces, blocks, and toys), then explained why they made those decisions.

Next week’s class will focus on the attributes or preferences we all have that are invisible to others. Students will use their “thinking brains”—the cortex/prefrontal cortex—to get curious, then interview their classmates and ask the kinds of questions that help override stereotypes and assumptions.

Experiencing the art of Alma Woodsey Thomas

Students in 2-3 were recently introduced to the art of Alma Woodsey Thomas. Following an introduction to watercolor painting, students explored the abstract style of the artist. Ms. Thomas was born in 1891 and was an art teacher in Washington DC for 38 years. She began painting full-time when she was in her 60’s!


We’re looking forward to seeing both new and familiar faces back on campus! Be sure to check out this brief video that provides an overview of the new Swivl technology that will be in our hybrid classrooms this fall. The video features four faculty members and was recorded during our Summer Term classes.

Watch the video