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Article Published January 14, 2020
The Country School Invites Guilford, Madison Residents to Join Community Conversation on Empathy
Jesse Williams

The Country School (TCS) is inviting parents, community members, and neighbors to join in another community conversation on diversity and inclusion as part of the school’s eighth annual IDEA Day next week.

IDEA Day is an initiative TCS has run that offers students extracurricular discussions, workshops, and hands-on experience with larger topics of social justice, empathy, according to alumni relations and outreach staff member Liz Lightfoot.

Following student activities during the school day on Tuesday, Jan. 21, TCS is teaming up with Madison and Guilford public schools, inviting parents or any community member interested in being a part of these conversations for a talk and presentation by educator Sam Drazin at TCS, offering what Lightfoot said is an opportunity she hopes will continue to spread the message of IDEA Day through the broader community.

“It’s to enable parents and teachers to continue this conversation with kids,” Lightfoot said.

“We are trying to build it certainly, and share the wealth with other communities, and spread that knowledge and spread that love,” said TCS teacher Kristin Liu.

This is the second collaborative community conversation TCS has hosted with Madison and Guilford, the first talking place late last year, when sociology professor Maggie Hagerman spoke with community members about combating racism and privilege in affluent white communities.

This year’s IDEA Day and conversation will focus on empathy, using the popular young adult novel Wonder as a springboard toward understanding differences and empathizing with people who we might not immediately understand, Lightfoot said.

Wonder tells the story of a child with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects the development of facial bones and tissues, as he navigates issues of bullying and kindness. Drazin, a former elementary school teacher who now runs a non-profit, also has Treacher Collins and will speak to students on a very personal level about his life and experiences, Lightfoot said.

The way IDEA Day is structured allows for these kinds of conversations to take place in a way that includes student voices and creates more meaningful learning experiences, according to Liu.

“I think that’s the idea; it’s not a top down lesson that teachers are teaching the students. It’s that sort of shared experience, everyone at the table,” Liu said.

Exposing students in this way to wider concepts and experiences is a way to prepare them for life in the larger world, outside of TCS and Madison, Liu said, and gives them tools to become better citizens, friends, and community members.

“When our kids graduate...they will sort of fan out into the broader world,” said Lightfoot, “already aware of the beauty in someone who might be a little bit different.”

“Not just aware of the beauty, but also hopefully trained as allies,” Liu said. “That’s the goal, really—that they would already have the language ready to interrupt bias, ready to speak up for someone who might need to be spoken up for. A lot of [this IDEA Day] is going to involve both inward thinking, but also outward action.”

TCS wants to include parents and other Madison, Guilford, and nearby residents for a simple reason: These ideas are relevant to everyone.

“We’re always looking to sort of be part of a conversation about issues that matter,” Lightfoot said.

The community conversation is free and open to the public, and will take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the TCS gym, 341 Opening Hill Road. For more information about TCS, visit www.thecountryschool.org.