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Letter of the Week: Unexpected Opportunity

On Wednesday April 17, i-ACT set up Camp Darfur at Brentwood School in Los Angeles, CA. Students from Martha Kermott’s sophomore class hosted each tent and the Little Ripples information table. During each period teachers of the Upper School visited the tents and learned from their peers about mass atrocities and genocide. Dr. Mike Riera, Head of School, wrote the following email to the entire Brentwood School community about the experience.

Letter of the Week: Unexpected Opportunity by Dr. Mike Riera, Head of School On Wednesday, I spent some time at the sophomore History Project: Darfur Refugee Camps. I circulated through the tents representing five different instances of genocide: Armenia, Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan. (See the article in Teaching and Learning for a more thorough description of the installation.) Listening to the presentations, viewing photos, and talking to our students moved me in a myriad of ways—anger, despair, sadness, shock, guilt, and outrage, just to name a few. There was a lot to take in. The variety of these strong feelings permeated the inside of each tent. As students entered to hear the presentations, I watched their body language change from the typical adolescent stride to a retracted walk often seen when people enter a spiritual place. There was a kind of anxious reverence. When they exited the tents, their adolescent walk was slow to resume. As one would hope, their feelings and questions lingered, and it showed. As I paid attention to students describing the various genocides, I heard a vulnerable and humbled quality in all of their voices. Whether they were describing the event or reading a first hand account, all were visibly shaken by what they were saying. Just as powerful were the reactions to the photos hanging on the walls—images of people who had lived and died in the various camps. The power of the material quite simply cut through the typical adolescent defenses and self-consciousness. Over the course of the day I spoke with students about their various responses to Camp Darfur. They were quite similar to my own. More impressive, however, was how articulate they were in how they related these experiences to the human condition, power and influence, leadership, group think, and a myriad of other nuanced emotions and concepts. They were maturing right in front of me. When people ask me what is special about Brentwood, besides the outstanding academics and teachers, I frequently cite the additional focus on the development of emotional intelligence. In my mind, Camp Darfur is one of those clear-cut examples of emotional education in process. In their groundbreaking 1990 article, Emotional Intelligence, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer defined emotional intelligence as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” These skills were on display during Camp Darfur. From presenters self-monitoring their content based on peer responses; to students ability, upon reflection, to identify their various and subtle emotions; all the way to using this information to refine and deepen their attitudes on a host of issues, including their own identities. It was profound to see this emotional growth-spurt in action. Emotional intelligence is not a subject like math or Spanish, rather it frequently exists in the spaces between content. It can be mined and brought into the light of day for clarity or it can be left to go unnoticed and ignored. At Brentwood this aspect of learning is intentionally mined for all its potential, like what happened earlier this week at Camp Darfur. Have a great weekend. Dr. Mike

Thank you Brentwood School and Martha for partnering with i-ACT year after year to raise awareness and funds for Darfuri-led projects in the refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border.


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