Middle School is a time of great exploration. Research tells us that identity plays a key role in shaping students’ perspectives and interactions with the world and that school and classroom structures, including time and space for discourse, can influence students’ identity development. At Milton, we strive to acknowledge the multiple worlds we all inhabit and to help students navigate the often complex social and cultural challenges.
This year, we have re-structured our Wednesday schedule to provide more opportunities for students to gather in cultural and affinity groups. “Our goal is to foster understanding, provide time and space for meaningful conversations, and allow students to share their lived experiences,” explains Will Crissman. Affinity groups allow students to gather socially as well as to share ideas outside the classroom. In addition to our Students of Color group, we have established a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), Reflecting on Anti-Racism (ROAR), a Faith-Based group, Cultural Awareness for Everyone (CAFE), and BOLD, a new media-focused group for girls.
Reflecting on the importance of affinity groups, Director of Multiculturalism and Community Development Robert Lightbody says, “As a school, we strive to create a community that fosters our students’ interests and beliefs, and we recognize that within our community, there are a number of our students who lead their daily lives through their identity.” Grade 8 student Joseph, a member of the Faith-Based Affinity group, appreciates that “everyone is open to people’s personal beliefs.” Casey (Grade 8), a member of both the Students of Color and the Faith-Based groups, adds that his involvement “helped me to be less insecure about my race and religion.”
The longest-running of our student cultural groups, CAFE, a weekly lunch discussion group facilitated by faculty members, Carrie Ferrin and Sue Austin, is an opportunity for students to share and learn about a variety of cultures and traditions, to discuss current events and their portrayal in the media, and to bring to the table their thoughts and concerns about the world. Anna (Grade 7) writes, “I have learned about different events, groups, and cultures through CAFE. Above all, I have learned to look at life from other people’s perspectives.”
The newest group on the scene is BOLD, a media literacy club and female mentorship program developed to educate and empower girls about media literacy and to effect positive changes in their communities. The program’s aim is to bring awareness to negative stereotypes in the media and to empower their voices for positive change. Upper School student facilitator Sophia Wilson Pelton says, “we don’t plan to just present problems, we want to give Middle School girls the tools to be part of the solution. Our hope is to give girls a positive space to speak their minds, share their opinions, and learn to advocate for what they believe.”
Student interest and engagement in affinity groups has been a driver of these programs in the Middle School. Will says, “We are fortunate to have a community that is open to discussing the issues of race or culture that often lie just below the surface of students’ daily experiences, and to provide spaces where faculty can help students build a stronger sense of self.” Eighth-grader Blessie sums up the importance of affinity groups with these words: “I think affinity groups are great in the sense that they help you to discuss specific issues with other people who regard it with the same level of importance as you do. Not only that, but they’ve also personally helped me form connections with other students I most likely wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise. Because of affinity groups, I’ve been able to deepen both my level of understanding and appreciation for both the opinions of myself and others (differences and all) that go beyond the amount of depth one would often find in day-to-day conversations.”