Coming Together as a Community
by Head of School, Michael Saxenian

June 1, 2020

My heart breaks at the senseless killing of yet another Black American, George Floyd, at the hands of those charged with protecting us. This latest event comes against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has devastated us all, but has had a far greater impact on communities of color. The resulting protests and the failure of our leaders to bring us together reminds us of the profound and ongoing impact of personal and institutional racism in our society.

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It is not enough for us, as parents and educators, to reject racism. Rather, we must fight it. As Michelle Obama wrote: “Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own.”

Our School is committed to doing that uncomfortable, hard work. The task is more difficult because we are so differently affected by issues of race and poverty that it can be hard for us, as parents and educators, and for our students, to fully grasp the challenges faced by others.  Black families, for example, have shouldered greater economic and health impacts from the pandemic than other groups. And an insensitive comment from a peer such as “it’s no big deal” rooted not in malice but in failure to understand the pain of others, can constitute a blow to the gut to a child. As one McLean parent of African American students wrote to me, “Our family is not OK,” explaining that “My children are at home in quarantine with me and should be safe. Instead, their freedom to grow and thrive . . . is being degraded by the violence surrounding them in our nation . . . because too many of my White brothers and sisters do not value their humanity as African Americans.”

Over the course of seven decades, we have worked to build a school based on compassion and understanding—a safe place where personal dignity and self-worth are cultivated and reinforced. A community that sees every student as a unique learner, and supports them emotionally as well as academically. In treasuring every student’s unique gifts—in all of our diversity–we create a community in which students find the space and support to become their fullest and best selves, and we give our students the gift of learning to thrive in partnership with people of different races and backgrounds.

We remain committed to our ongoing work to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We do this in our daily program with students, and by giving our faculty tools such as Windows and Mirrors methodology for understanding how students internalize lessons that may reflect their own lives or shed a light on those whose identities may differ from their own. And we do it through our community outreach, such as the community reading, film viewing, and discussion of the Angie Thomas novel, The Hate U Give. We see this work as fundamental, and we know that, with the election approaching in the fall, we will have to rely more than ever on the foundation of respect, understanding, and love that we so diligently cultivate at McLean.

As we gather in the last days of our school year, our Middle and Upper School Counselors are offering forums for students to gather and share feelings about recent events. For the moment, you might consider whether there is anyone in your sphere who would benefit from a phone call to just ask how they are doing.

Please know that our teachers, counselors, administrators, and I would like to support you, as parents, in approaching conversations with your child about events in the media that may be out of step with our School’s – and your family’s – values, or that may be alarming to your child. Bobby Edwards, our Director of Community Inclusion and External Relations, is a nationally recognized leader in this area and may be a particularly helpful resource to parents. You may find helpful this USA Today article and these resources on talking to children about race–and learning about it as adults–or this more general article from the Mayo Clinic on helping children cope with tragedy. I also invite you to explore the new Talking About Race Portal at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. As always, I encourage you to take advantage of McLean’s speakers and workshops designed to provide tools and understanding, and to further our partnership to educate and support your child. 

We thank you for entrusting your child to our care, and for doing your part to further develop the safe and supportive McLean community upon which our students depend.

With enormous gratitude and deep appreciation,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School