BHS Round Square Day: when our differences are celebrated
The Bermuda High School took inspiration from last year's Diversity Day to use as its theme for the global 2018 Round Square International Conference, “Bring Your Difference” to inspire students.
Approximately 300 students took part in a full day of activities organised by student leaders, with activities focused on identifying individual differences, raising awareness about issues of global significance, celebrating the rich diversity of the school community and strengthening a school-wide sense of belonging.
Students were able to come in their cultural dress if they wished to share their heritage, and there was an array of cultures on display throughout the day.
BHS is a member of the Round Square organisation, which gives students the opportunities to travel to conferences, service trips and workshops around the world. Over the past year, BHS students have travelled to the US and Canada, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and Argentina and taken part in conferences and service projects with other students from around the world.
BHS's Round Square Day 2018 started with a particularly poignant moment, as BHS invited two former pupils to open the day's events.
Laurita Dill, 1978, and Debbie Jackson, 1973, were the first black students at BHS, and in recognition of 50 years of desegregation of BHS, they were invited to talk to the students about their experience so many years ago.
Mrs Dill joined BHS in Primary 1 at five years old, and she remembers being treated no differently than anyone else in her class.
“I guess being 5 years old and being black bore no significance to me of who I was and my sole purpose for being there — which was for a quality education.”
Currently a Year 4 teacher at BHS, Mrs Dill used her BHS connection to speak to the students in a profound way and used the image of a fly floating in a glass of milk to relate to the girls how she found her wings at BHS: “You're not helpless, use your wings.”
At the end of her speech, she brought up her daughter Tessa Dill, who will graduate next May, and told the room “this is my legacy” which led to an emotional standing ovation.
Ms Jackson, on the other hand joined in Senior 1, and while she was also warmly welcomed and made fast friends, she does recall: “There were great moments of pride as I excelled academically, proving that black people are intelligent and intellectual.
“Many stereotypes had to be challenged, and generalised racist beliefs excised in order to open hearts and minds at BHS.”
Acting as a trustee in the Nineties, Ms Jackson worked hard to introduce diversity training for teachers and to make it easier for black families to register their daughters. She went on to conclude: “When I visit BHS today, I am heartened to see so much more integration and progress made in leadership and performance by young women of colour.
“The school has made a tremendous effort to be inclusive and encouraging of black students in the years subsequent to my arrival.”
She also spoke to the students about how the gift of time has given her a different perspective and ability to recognise someone else's pain with compassion and empathy.
She also used the opportunity to tell the students how important it is for them to use their voice and vote.
Inspired, moved and motivated, students then broke into same-age small groups and were coached through a series of activities led by student facilitators and staff members.
“The student leaders were amazing. They all spoke so well and with confidence. They were great leaders and role models for the younger girls”, said Tracy Renaud, Year 6 teacher.
The activities delved into the topics of inclusion, exclusion, assumptions and labels, opportunities and privilege, which led to vibrant discussions and personal introspection from the staff and students alike.
Students and staff also heard from alumna, Jessica Lewis, 2011, who shared her personal observations and challenges growing up in a wheelchair.
She encouraged students to accept who they are in order to grow.
“When you start embracing your differences, then we can all become superhuman,” the two-time Paralympian said.
Feedback from BHS students throughout the day was positive.
Gabrielle Brackstone, Y11, said: “Diversity is such a big topic and has so many links with what we deal with every day (school, sports, other activities) and we all had so much to say!
“As a facilitator, I really found that my group were passionate about what they were saying.”
Cerra Simmons, IB1, said, “BHS has a lot of diversity and many different cultures represented, and I found the discussion to be beneficial for us as a community. I thought this brought us together as a group and it helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation for my peers.”
When asked what “Bring Your Difference” meant to her, co-head student, Madison Quig said: “To me this means allowing whatever makes you unique or different to be seen and to also celebrate the uniqueness of others.
“Bring your difference to me means giving voice to the perspectives that have come from your experiences,” Madison said. “It is also being able to accept when other people's experiences, lifestyles and perspectives are very different from your own.”
Natalie Calderon, IB1 felt that the event has set in motion a larger conversation: “It revealed to me just how engaged and interested the student body is, and how crucial it is for these conversations to be continued.
“From the speakers, the group discussions, and the privilege activities, I believe that Round Square Day helped me expand my perspective and set an amazing tone for the rest of the school year.”
Linda Parker, head of BHS, was fulsome in praising the students and speakers.
“As a school with over 120 years of history, we continue to reflect on upon our past, using valuable lessons learnt to propel our school family forward.
“By recognising the 50th anniversary of the School's desegregation through the Round Square celebrations this year, we persist in our efforts to build upon our mission of diversity and inclusion at BHS,” she concluded.