3rd-8th Grade Student Affinity and Allies Groups
For a few years now, Sheridan has offered affinity groups for middle school students who share a part of their identity in common or who have a particular passion or interest in social action. The Students of Color affinity group, the New Student group, the Gay/Straight Alliance, and Los Búhos Unidos have all served to provide a space for students to explore their own identities, learn about the experiences of others who share (and don’t share) their identities, and to learn about how to make our school as well as the larger world a more equitable and inclusive place.
This year, we are excited to launch these groups again and to build on our successes in past years through the addition of two more groups: The 3rd-5th grade Students of Color group and The 6th-8th grade Allies Group. We have established the 3rd-5th grade Students of Color group in response to student and family interest at these grade levels as well as a desire to include our 5th graders as leaders in the group rather than the youngest students in our middle school group. This group, like its 6th-8th grade counterpart, provides a safe space for students of color to explore racial identity and take action against racism. Similarly, The Allies Group has been formed in response to student and family interest. This group is for students who identify as white who would like a time and space to explore how individuals in the dominant racial group can take action against racism and promote inclusive communities. The work of this group will be to explore white identity, systemic inequalities, how racism hurts all of us, and how we can work together in anti-racist work.
Below are some FAQs about affinity and allies groups as well as more information about each. If you have a child in 3rd-8th grades, s/he has likely already been introduced to these groups at a morning meeting. We invite you to talk to your child about these and to encourage your child to attend groups that you think would be of interest and benefit to them and to your family.
As always, we have an open door policy for any families who want to come talk to us about their child’s or their family’s experiences at Sheridan and/or about Sheridan’s stance towards issues of diversity and inclusion. Feel free to reach out to Jessica, Stephanie, Laurel, or any of the facilitators of these groups. We would love to hear from you if you have questions, concerns, or input, and especially if you have an idea for an additional group for the future!
FAQ about Affinity and Allies groups:
When are the meetings?
Each group will meet approximately 4 times before Thanksgiving break. All meetings are scheduled during flex time.
Do affinity groups promote exclusion? Does the model create divisiveness?
Absolutely not! Affinity and Allies groups promote inclusion and work against divisiveness by promoting an inclusive and equitable school culture for all students. Students learn about themselves and others as well as cultural competency skills for building positive communities. Affinity groups have been around for a long time now, and there is a lot of research to support them, both in businesses and in schools. Affinity groups provide students the opportunity to develop a better understanding of their own identities and how identity shapes experiences. Students with a strong sense of self are better able to understand and appreciate the experiences of others, ultimately leading to a richer, more equitable space for all students. The model fits with Sheridan’s larger goals of taking kids seriously and providing each student with what s/he needs to live up to his/her fullest potential. For students in the non-dominant group (because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), affinity groups are an important and safe space to talk through issues, ask questions and explore their own identities.
Why aren’t the Students of Color groups open to all students?
Affinity groups are designed to provide our students of color with a safe space in which they can discuss issues relating to race and their experiences at Sheridan. In order to provide this safety for all our students, only students who self-identify as of color can be present at meetings. The Allies Group will provide white students with an opportunity to explore these topics in a separate setting.
How will the larger community know about the work of the groups?
All meetings are confidential (though if ever there is reporting of a student safety issue, whether emotional or physical, facilitators will report to the administration for further action) . Facilitators and/or students will report out their work to the administration, staff and, at times, to families. Each group will also find ways to share their learning and work with students, perhaps through morning meeting conversations, “bring a friend” days, special projects, or joint meetings with other groups.
Shouldn’t ALL students be learning these skills and exploring their identities?
Yes, and here at Sheridan, they do! Identity exploration, social skills, and social action are all embedded in the regular programming of your child’s experience in our school. Affinity and Allies groups are a way for students to go deeper into topics of interest and to find smaller, supportive, and uniquely-structured communities to support their inquiry and learning. Members of the Affinity and Allies groups will be able to contribute to the work in class in unique and powerful ways.
2015-16 Student Groups
Students of Color Affinity Groups
3rd-5th grade (NEW): Gabby Arca, Jen Rivera, Uzma Panjwani
6th-8th grade: Carlene Drakes-Jackson, Celeste Jones, Shenica Smith
Open to students in 3rd-5th or 6th-8th who self identify as being students of color.
Sheridan’s Students of Color Affinity Groups’ purposes are to empower students of color through the creation of a time and space to come together as a community, share experiences at a predominantly white school, learn from one another, and explore race, culture, identity, equity, and social action. Conversations are confidential so that the space is safe for all to speak, and all students who identify as individuals of color are welcome to attend. Staff advisors are available for support both during and outside of group meetings.
If you would like to read more about the power of affinity groups, take a look at Identity, Affinity, Reality, a 2012 NAIS article.
The Allies Group (NEW)
Facilitator(s): Jay Briar and Jared Winston
Open to students in 6th-8th who self-identify as white
The Allies Group will offer white students an opportunity to explore social justice as part of the dominant racial group. Early meetings will have an instructional component and explore what it means to be white in America and how members of a dominant group can work against bias. This group will work from the assumption that racism exists and that white allies have a responsibility to use their privilege to help bring about change. Later in the year, members of this group will hopefully work on a social action project in conjunction with the Students of Color Group.
Check out this resource from Independent School Magazine if you’ like to learn more about white racial identity and anti-racist work: What White Children Need to Know About Race.
Gay/ Straight Alliance (GSA)
Facilitator(s): Laura Merrill and Eileen Hughes
Open to all 6th-8th grade students (those who identify as LGBTQ or who are straight or cisgender) who are interested in learning more about how to be an ally for equality
GSA Mission Statement: The Sheridan School GSA is an alliance of students and staff – straight, questioning, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. We stand for respect, unity, equality, justice, tolerance, acceptance and kindness. We strive to ensure that all students at Sheridan feel safe and supported and to promote an environment in which community members are able to express themselves, their individuality and/or their sexuality without consequence or judgment. Staff advisors are available for support both during and outside of group meetings.
PFLAG is a great resource if you’d like to explore these topics more for yourself and your family.
New Student Group
Facilitators: Noel Sheppard, Martha Adler
Open to all new middle school students and students in their second year, who serve as mentors
The New Student Group provides a time and space for middle school students who are new to Sheridan to connect with each other, discuss some of the challenges of being new in the school, and simply enjoy each others’ company.
Los Búhos Unidos
Facilitator: Vicky Masson
Open to all 6th-8th students who are passionate about Spanish language and social action
Los Búhos Unidos is a group that provides a time and space for students interested in developing their Spanish language skills and in taking meaningful social action. Los Búhos Unidos is the Sheridan chapter of the Sociedad Hispánica de Amistad (SHA). SHA is an activities-based Spanish Society for elementary and middle school students enrolled in a Spanish class. In order for a school to have a chapter of the Sociedad Hispánica de Amistad, all sponsors (teachers) must be members of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, (AATSP).
All students are required to participate in projects in order to become members. Projects must use Spanish in some way and must be completed on each of the following three areas: AMBASSADORSHIP, SCHOOL SERVICE, and COMMUNITY SERVICE.
This year we are planning to offer 5th to 8th grade Spanish students to become members.
As you can see it is an action driven type of group which operates using the Spanish language.