Calvert Co-Sponsors 2021 Middle School Student Leadership in Diversity Conference

On April 23, more than 240 students from nearly 30 independent schools gathered virtually for the 2021 Middle School Student Leadership in Diversity Conference (MSSLDC). Hosted and co-sponsored by Calvert School, the conference included workshops for students and teachers and featured a thought-provoking keynote from filmmaker André Robert Lee.
Now an educator and activist who uses film to start conversations about race and equity, Lee attended Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia when he was young. He came from a lower-income background, attended on a full scholarship, and was one of few students of color at the school.
“I went to a school just like yours, like all of those that I saw in the chat,” he said during the virtual keynote. “I know those schools. I’ve been to those schools, and I know what the experience can be for a person of color at those schools. It can be wonderful or it can be isolating.”
Lee’s 2012 documentary, The Prep School Negro, reflects on this experience while inviting modern independent-school students to examine diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism in their own lives. During MSSLDC on April 23, he asked attendees to do the same.
“We’re still young when it comes to fighting for equity and justice…” Lee said. “We’re still young when it comes to turning this around. We’re still learning how to be equal and have not yet become the country that we are on paper, and I’m looking at you young people to bring about change.”
Following Lee’s keynote address – sponsored by the Luke Stone ’86 Leadership Speaker Series and the Kahlert Foundation – students broke into small groups to share their experiences and discuss these issues in a safe space. In these “family groups,” made up of students from multiple schools, the attendees focused on the conference theme: “activating our identities, using our voices, and making good trouble.”
In a full-group exercise that included nearly 300 students, teachers, and organizers, everyone turned off their cameras as student facilitators read from a list of phrases related to identity. These phrases included racial and sexual identifiers, preferred gender identities, religious beliefs, economic status, mental health, and family structure.
When they heard relatable descriptions, attendees turned their cameras back on, revealing the differences, similarities, and diversity within the community. The exercise was a “challenge by choice,” organizers said, because each participant had to choose to be honest and intentional about turning on their cameras.
After the exercise finished, students returned to their “family groups” and later ended the day with a recap of everything they covered during the conference. On a collaborative message board, many students reported feeling moved by the experience and said that they will return to school with a greater understanding of inclusion and acceptance.
“I wish I had this when I was in middle school, but I did not, and I am so happy to witness this today,” Lee said.
This was Calvert School’s second time hosting MSSLDC — the first was in 2018 — and four Mighty Bees assisted as student facilitators. Close to 30 Calvert students participated in total, and teachers Sandry Sachar and Diana Talbott chaperoned. 

Señora Sachar also led this year’s adult planning team, which included faculty and staff from several local independent schools.

Thanks to Sandry Sachar, Diana Talbott, MSSLDC organizers, and Calvert student facilitators Julia B. ’21, Sophie B. ’21, Kiera C. ’21, and Teagan H. ’21 for a successful and enriching day!
Calvert School is a coed independent lower and middle school.