At St. Christopher’s we have a special program called “X-Term.” X-Term is an experience where Upper School students pursue and develop intellectual passions (some academic and some not) beyond the traditional classroom. X-Term provides a chance for students to collaborate, to set common goals, and to bond. The experience includes the opportunity to do a variety of things for one week of the school year. Examples are world travel, community service, independent studies, and more. This year, X-Term was the week before spring break. While I wanted to travel the world, I was unable to do so because of my wrestling schedule. The National Prep tournament interfered with the travel dates of cohorts visiting other countries. Instead of sulking about missing the travel opportunity, I pursued my next passion: mentoring our younger kids.
St. Christopher’s offers a mentoring cohort called “Chamberlayne to McVey.” With this cohort, Upper School students partner with Lower and Middle School students to create and deliver lessons about what it means to be inclusive. When I was told by my cohort leader, Dr. Kimberly Hudson, that I had the opportunity to lead a discussion and watch the movie Wonder (2017) with my school’s sixth graders, I knew I had to seize the opportunity.
Wonder is an inspiring fictional story about a young boy named Auggie. Auggie can do many things the same or better than other kids. However, he has a rare genetic facial deformity. In the movie (which is based on the 2012 book by R.J. Palacio), Auggie is homeschooled his entire school career before entering mainstream elementary school for the first time as a fifth grader. (You can start to see where this book and the X-Term cohort connect). He has to go through many obstacles to create friendships and he has conflict with others. The book tackles several themes and the most important ones are: you should not judge a person by how they look and it is important to be inclusive. I agree with these themes and I want to share them with more of my community.
I love this discussion topic because I’ve had similar experiences. I witnessed discrimination of my own brother. About eight or nine years ago, I noticed my older brother, who is multiracial (we have different biological fathers) was sometimes subtlety left out of a group or not given the deserved playing time in a backyard football game. Other times he was called racist names. I had my own bullying experiences in elementary and early middle school and sometimes found myself on both sides of the bullying spectrum.
One time in about 2007-2008 (I remember the year because my older brother was flaunting his new Obama “Yes We Can” t-shirt), I arrived home from school early and went to meet my brother at the bus stop. While I live in a predominantly white neighborhood, I had rarely seen any intolerance for non-white kids. I don’t remember exactly what the girl at the bus stop called my brother, but it wasn’t kind. I do, however, remember my older brother yelling words back to her and running home. I didn’t see him for the rest of the night. After my brother told my parents what happened, they went to the girl’s parents and explained the situation. Minutes later, the girl and her parents arrived at our front door with an apology. Even after the apology, I could see how hurt my older brother was and, from then on, he was hesitant to wear his Obama shirt. This experience stuck with me. And, when I was given the opportunity to educate sixth graders about Wonder, I knew I had to do it.
With the help of my cohort leader, we planned the day. We gathered the boys in the film space and broke them into smaller groups where the older boys would lead younger ones in a pre-film discussion. We watched the movie as a whole and broke out into post-film small group discussions. The process of discussion was simple yet effective. It gave the 6th graders the floor to share their ideas and think critically, something that does not always happen in their traditional classroom. After the breakout discussions, the boys were gathered in the film space for a larger group conversation. Leading the conversation was a bit of a struggle since some of the boys had gotten to know my laid back style because of my teaching their health class earlier in the week. However, as the boys opened and loosened up, they talked and shared their own experiences. I knew it was a success because some of the boys have since approached me and complimented me on the lesson as well as “dissed” my fake Yeezy Adidas.
Wonder is a great book to use to teach boys starting their journey to manhood. In my personal experience, the end of elementary school and the start of middle school is a time when boys start to become the men they will be in the future and work to process and understand abstract concepts. Wonder discusses some very important concepts including the importance of family, friendship, kindness, and a person’s principles. These themes are necessary to understand and discuss in the rapidly evolving 21st century. I am grateful for the cohort experience and hope the boys took away the experience that I wanted them to.