We all need the reminder to take a deep breath, especially in today’s world. Taking a moment to breathe and reflect is the driving impetus behind BREATHE, a new program in SCH’s Lower School. BREATHE: Be Ready to Embrace All Through Hope and Equality, was developed by Laura Cortes, Auxiliary Programs Coordinator & Summerside Director, and Lower School teachers, and is designed to provide SCH's youngest with the tools they need to grapple with issues of race, identity, gender, family and more. The program has been in the works for over a year and kicked off at the start of this school year.
The goal of the program is to assist faculty in having challenging conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, when situations arise that require discussion and understanding. Over 30 original lessons have been organized by topic and are instantly available online with a stated goal, lesson plan, recommended books, movies, and materials. A handy BREATHE cart loaded with supplies is available at-the-ready for teachers to grab and use any time.
Books on the BREATHE cart have been purchased through the Germantown black-owned business, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books. Uncle Bobbie's is powered by Bookshop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.
"Developing this has been a true labor of love,” says Cortes. “In my work with students, it became clear that they could benefit from those teachable, breathable moments we experience in schools. The activities have been designed to help address issues students might experience on the playground or at lunch. Our goal is to engage right away with a conversation or activity that allows teachers and students to approach uncomfortable but important discussions in a safe space.“ In a recent BREATHE lesson, students constructed self portraits after reading Hair Love by Matthew Cherry. This activity is designed to create a safe environment to talk about the differences in skin and hair type within the 2nd grade classroom. After the lesson, the students had an open dialogue about Disney princesses and their “classic” portrayal vs. the more recent Disney movies, pointing out features that they then used in their own portraits and what beauty feels like to them.
"BREATHE was developed by our faculty in order to provide programming that can evolve and respond to our needs as a division",” says Head of Lower School Douglas Wainwright, “Since BREATHE activities have the flexibility of being taught in the moment, we can catch a hurt feeling, wronged action, or microaggression before it festers and becomes a bigger moment.”
Additionally, the BREATHE team—Laura Cortes, Deidra McRae, Gerri Allen, Julian McFadden, Kevin Engleman, and Peggy Grady—host monthly meetings for faculty to discuss issues and topics related to their work as educators. Their goal is to keep the lessons organic and invite other teachers to raise awareness about issues that are happening and provide activities to support the community. “Learning, not only how to communicate, but how to listen is an important part of being a thoughtful member of our community and helping build a world of love, not hate,” states Cortes.