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Growing in Knowledge and Character

Speakers, projects, and conversations about justice expand students’ worldview.

“They can be agents of change, right now,” said Rashad Lowery, coordinator of campus life and community stewardship at Steward. “Everyone has a voice, and they are empowered to use it for good.” 

Mr. Lowery was describing what he hoped students in his Upper School seminar course, Justice and Civil Society, would learn from his class. 

In his schoolwide role, Mr. Lowery has the opportunity to spread that message to students JK-12 through classwork as well as service learning opportunities and clubs. 

“Justice is at the foundation of service learning,” Mr. Lowery explained. “It creates space to understand why certain problems exist and how we as individuals can help. We become better together when we learn to empathize.” 

Head of School Dan Frank concurs that understanding justice is central to understanding our place in the world: “At Steward, students develop both critical thinking skills and compassion. This is a mission-driven part of our program: It helps our young people grow into the problem-solving, ethical adults our world needs for the future.”

In Mr. Lowery’s seminar course, opportunities for in-class reflection are paired with reading and inspiring interactions with Richmond-area leaders, including interfaith panels (alongside Upper School history teacher Eliza McGehee’s classes) and community builders who are early as well as later in their careers. The students explore past and current events through different lenses, such as identity, advocacy, faith, privilege, and justice. Some students, such as Anna Pastore '21, plan to focus on those areas in college and their careers.

“I have always been passionate about human rights, specifically the rights of immigrants, and Mr. Lowery's class has given me not only the tools to further explore this issue in a global context, but also to understand it on a local level and help those around me,” Anna said. “Having a safe space to discuss issues central to social justice is invaluable to our school community and has made me even more confident that I want to pursue a career in human rights.”

In Upper School English teacher Jessica Conley’s research writing seminar, the students are helping create a written historical record for Black individuals buried at East End and Evergreen cemeteries in eastern Henrico County. The project, which was done in collaboration with the Enrichmond Foundation, offers a real-world opportunity for students to both broaden their understanding of research and broaden their worldviews. 

“I believe in the power of the written word to recognize, preserve, and honor memory,” Ms. Conley said. “Not only are our students giving dignity to the individuals they are honoring, but this project is also a gift to themselves. Developing empathy is an important part of personal growth.”

The students have researched both the individuals and the organizations of which they were a part, including a broom company and its baseball team, fraternal organizations and secret societies, churches, and military regiments. The essays they’ve written will be published on the Enrichmond website and interviews with the students can be watched on Enrichmond's YouTube page.

Students in other divisions are also exploring justice-related concepts. For example, Mr. Lowery coordinated for Anita Bennett, CEO of Daily Planet Health Services, which works with homeless populations downtown, to speak with Middle Schoolers. “Her presentation humanized the experience and issue,” Mr. Lowery said. “It helped our students understand — through her personal experience — why people end up homeless.”

In another example, fourth grade teacher Janell Kauffman introduced the concept of unsung heroes into the children’s social studies work this year. By identifying new resources and then researching and learning about previously unknown key figures in the American Revolution, our students found that many groups had been previously underrepresented in traditional curriculum, including women and people of color. Fourth grader Porter Cram said, “It was like learning a whole new perspective!” Mrs. Kauffman said that the ultimate goal was to learn about the courage and character of certain key figures during a time when their voices were not well-represented.

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