I was blessed to have attended what I would argue is one of the best schools in the entire country during my elementary school years. Park Day School (“Park”) is a progressive, social justice oriented K-8 school located in Oakland, CA that truly teaches not only tolerance, but understanding and acceptance. The following is a piece adapted from a speech I was asked to give on how Park “influenced my commitment to social justice.”
When I graduated I said in my speech that “Park Day School is my home.” There really couldn’t have been a truer statement.
Park raised me.
I spent a large part of 7 of my most formative years at that school. I am so thankful.
I don’t know that you could find a more dedicated, hardworking group of people committed to positive social impact anywhere in the world.
Day in and day out I learned about who I had the potential to be through classroom teaching, activities extra curriculars.
When I look back now, through post-college student eyes trying to make decisions about rest of my life about what I want to do, I can see what a tremendous gift it was to be able to attend this school. I was asked to speak on how Park “influenced” my commitment to social justice and I say influence in quotes because I don’t think that adequately portrays what park, and its then-director Tom Little, did for me.
Park is made up of a community of people who influenced, affirmed, cemented, and solidified that a belief that a commitment to social justice was a requirement of being human. It should matter to me whether or not I am directly affected because this is my world and the ONLY option I have is to try and make it better. Social justice is woven into the fabric of who I am. It’s interwoven into everything I do because when I was growing up here, we didn’t just learn about it, we lived it. They told me it matters every single day; More importantly, they SHOWED me it matters.
Every year we had Cultures’day where we learned about something different–Judaism, Islam, Native American beliefs and practices to name a few. In fourth grade, during CARE week we learned about what it meant to be LGBTQ in love and in work and in life. I can still remember listening to the founder of Scharfenberger chocolate talk to us a little about being an openly gay man, a lot about starting a chocolate company (and then giving us free samples to try). That year for all school sing on Friday the SF Gay men’s choir sang us a wonderful assortment of tunes including an arrangement of “Rubber Ducky” from Sesame Street. I, also remember how jealous I was when I heard that the fifth graders got to meet the voice behind Elmo and Tommy Pickles, and our discussion of what it meant to be “transexual” when that word was used to describe the 6th grade’s visitors.
In fifth grade we participated in the mosaic project, where we learned what it meant to empathize. We learned about mutual respect, open minded-ness, self respect, attitude, individuality and community. It’s through this modeling of inclusivity, acceptance and respect for and celebration of difference, that I learned that what is really important about a person is the way in which he or she treats other people–and how good his chocolate making skills are.
In sixth grade, two years after 9/11/2001, our class production–written by teachers at the school each year–focused on islamaphobia and prejudice of Brown and Black-skinned people justified by the this idea of “terrorism.”
This year my younger sister is attending Park. I was moved to tears when my mom sent me a picture of her posing next to the sign the school made to accompany the students as they marched around the neighborhood for justice and equality and to commemorate the March on Washington. It read “Black Lives Matter.”
It wasn’t until I got to college and began studying education that I was able to understand the extent to which my childhood was magical, and unique. We learned about the fight for freedom of so many different types of people–Native Americans, Black Americans, women, those who identify as LGBTQ, Muslim, and disabled, and issues that affect us all like global warming and environmental pollution. We learned to speak up about things we thought were not right. We learned what it meant to be an effective ally and how to step in when someone else was being bullied. We learned the danger of a single story and the importance of listening with an open heart and an open mind. Through these lenses, we were able to learn about ourselves. By watching our mostly-white teachers and other adults at the school, we were given a model of what effective allyship really looks like and how we might develop these traits in ourselves. It is the lessons I learned at Park Day School, that prepared me more than anything else to be the type of adult I am proud to be in a society that does not value those things. Two years out of college, my guiding questions are “How can I help?” “How can I use the privilege I have to make the greatest impact?” and “How can I do this while being true to myself?” I’m proud to say that those are questions I learned at Park Day School.
Interested in some of the specific lessons I learmed and what you might teach your pre radical little freedom fighters? Stay tuned next week for Part 2 in which I reflect on the things I took away using the letters of the alphabet.