Forum responds to a changing world

Forum, Dana Hall School’s health and character education curriculum, has been changed this year to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and social justice movements, and the 2020 presidential election. The courses also were altered in consideration of last spring’s online classes, when students did not take Forum and thus missed the last part of the year’s curriculum.

Unlike in previous years, all students are receiving grade-appropriate versions of the same curriculum, rather than a different curriculum for each grade. According to Ms. Margie Bailey, the Director of Health and Wellness, “We’re trying to build the foundation during trimester one where with the election, the racial and social justice movements, and the pandemic could lead to difficult conversations and cause potential conflict. We wanted to prepare our students to have these conversations, especially here at Dana Hall, where we pride ourselves on the diversity of our students and faculty.”

Ms. Jessica Keimowitz, the Director of the Upper School, explained, “Throughout the fall, our Forum curriculum has focused on helping students develop the skills that they need to navigate difficult conversations. As we lean into these conversations, we rely on our Inclusion and Diversity Statement, which states, ‘We realize that conflicts may arise in the creation of such a community, but we see these possible conflicts as opportunities for growth, for open and honest communication, and for learning.’ All of us at Dana Hall are committed to helping students engage in civil discourse, especially when so much of the discourse surrounding this election is highly polarized.”

New this year, Ms. Bailey meets every week with Ms. Deanna Saunders, an Upper School Counselor, Ms. Erica Ramirez, the Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion, and Ms. Becky Kimball, the Director of Athletics and Health and Wellness, to work together to implement the lessons for Forum classes every week.

The 21 Forum facilitators also are doing training with teams such as the YES Institute, an organization whose mission is to “prevent suicide and ensure the healthy development of all youth through powerful communication and education on gender and orientation,” according to the Institute’s website. The YES Institute is also working with this year’s Peer Educators.

Arianne Randall ’22 has mixed feelings about some of the curricular changes, stating, “Forum is a beneficial class and I have learned a lot from it, but once we reach junior and senior year I think it would be valuable for us as upperclassmen to learn more about the world we are going into after we leave Dana as adults.” However, with so many topics to consider this year and missing the curriculum from last spring, it is difficult for everything to be covered and worked into the classes.

Dr. Rebecca Platt, Counselor for the Middle School, commented that, in the Middle School, “We wanted to make Forum feel like a place where students felt like they were getting to know one another, getting to explore their identity, figure out what they have in common with others, and feel like that was a place they could be more informal about sharing about their life while establishing a sense of community and camaraderie.”

Another challenge this year is that it is more difficult to host visiting speakers. However, Dr. Platt said that, although outside speakers are now visiting over Zoom, “students were enthusiastically participating and asking the speakers a lot of questions on Zoom and in the chat which may have been a result of the comfort they felt from being at home and not being in the classroom and feeling eyes on them.”

The Forum facilitators and Health and Wellness committee are weekly discussing plans for Trimester II and III, as well as what Ship Day and SAAD week will look like this year.

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