Belonging

Julie Schlossinger
Recently, many people around the globe celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Diwali for Hindus is similar in importance as Christmas for Christians.  Ms. Raghuvir, Renbrook’s Lower School Counselor, helped set up a Happy Diwali display right inside the entrance to the Nelson Building during that week. There were photos, diyas and LED tea light candles, and books.
 
The very next day, when I was sitting at my desk, I overheard a student in the hallway say to a teacher, “Did you see that? It’s about Diwali! I’m so happy!” and they proceeded to share details of their family’s traditions with the teacher.
I was so thrilled to overhear this conversation. What joy and pride this child felt upon entering the building and seeing the large and colorful Happy Diwali sign and display. How great it was that this child was able to “teach” the teacher about this important holiday/tradition for them.
Publicly recognizing the traditions and cultures that our very own Renbrook students, families, and employees honor is critically important and necessary to promote positive identity and a sense of belonging for our students. We define positive identity as when a child is seen, heard, valued, and loved.
We also recognize holidays and traditions because it is critically important for children to develop cultural responsiveness. For an elementary student, that means becoming more aware of their own cultural identity and that there are many others in the world. In addition, they are learning how to relate respectfully to those with different cultural backgrounds, customs, and histories.
There’s a section in Renbrook’s Mission Statement, “We educate and inspire students to develop character, knowledge, and creativity to lead in an increasingly global and inclusive world,” which speaks directly to this practice. We believe our students’ learning is enhanced when diverse viewpoints are presented, understood, and respected. We also believe that to create future leaders, an essential component is to educate them on the culturally rich and diverse religions, customs, and celebrations that occur all over the globe. Finally, we believe our students’ lives are enhanced by connecting positively with others in a world that sadly has become so divided while still being interconnected.
Recognizing, understanding, and celebrating different cultures, perspectives, and histories is just one aspect of our work supporting diversity and belonging here at Renbrook. As part of our Diversity and Belonging Mission Statement notes, “We believe this work is accomplished best with a positive and constructive mindset, seeking unity, and an understanding of the experience of others.”
Understanding the experience of others is something that guides literature selections, social studies content, and social-emotional instruction here at Renbrook. We want to help our students grow into empathetic, kind, and compassionate human beings who will thrive in culturally diverse settings.
While the Happy Diwali display came down after the fifth day of that holiday, I bet the sense of belonging and pride in their identity that the child must have felt will last for a very long time. 
“Children develop a sense of belonging through their needs being met, their thoughts and ideas being responded to, and their identities being affirmed and acknowledged. Before anything else, children should feel as if they belong. It is the first and most important step on their learning journey.”
- Bev Boss
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