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Middle School Speaker Series

The Steward School
Thought-provoking talk inspires students
Compassion and empathy are essential to the Steward experience. Care and respect for others, and service to those in need, bring students together as they engage with the world beyond Steward. Our schoolwide theme of “service” this year reinforces this.

On a recent fall morning, Middle Schoolers assembled in the Lora M. Robins Theatre to meet Joe Torrence, who greeted them with a booming, “Goooooood morning!” Mr. Torrence, the community outreach manager at the Children’s Museum of Richmond, kicked off this year’s Middle School Speaker Series, which had paused during the pandemic. With 20 years of leadership experience in the non-profit, human services, and education sectors, Mr. Torrence was invited to share his thoughts about how community service can be enriching for everyone involved. 

Values + Connections 
The Middle School Speaker Series aims to help students understand how School values (honor, community, responsibility, diversity, care for self, care for others, care for a great cause, service, and achievement) can connect them to the wider community. Middle School Academic Dean and Dean of Students Ann Robbins, who helped organize the series, said, “Students often learn about these values and hear them reiterated by our faculty and staff, but this information becomes even more engaging when there are outside connections too.” 

Stronger Together 
Onstage, Mr. Torrence stood next to a large white table that was topped with several food items: chips, beef jerky, and applesauce. Sharing stories about his experience in helping the hungry, he emphasized that relationships — meaningful connections with others — are the key to successful service endeavors. Merely giving something to others misses the mark, he noted, as it lacks input from the person in need. Then he asked for a student volunteer, and dozens of hands shot up. 

As Jackson Kerr ’29 hopped onstage, Mr. Torrence explained that, with Jackson’s help, he was going to act out several scenarios of what service could look like. 

“Let’s pretend that Jackson is hungry, and my organization has set up a soup kitchen,” explained Mr. Torrence. One by one, he handed Jackson the food items. Then he asked the audience for their observations of what might have been missing from the interaction.

“Maybe he doesn’t like this kind of food,” said one student. Another offered, “Maybe he’d like to have the option of choosing what he’d like to eat.”

“Yes!” said Mr. Torrence, who then talked about the value of “voice and choice”: giving every person the opportunity to speak for themselves and make their own choices. “Their choices might be different from ours … but that’s okay!” he said passionately. Then he replayed the scene, this time asking Jackson, “What would you like to eat?” Facing the audience, Mr. Torrence added, “Just because someone is hungry doesn’t make them any less valuable. When you treat others with dignity and respect, it opens up the door to a true relationship.” 

Referring to the table itself, Mr. Torrence noted, “Yes, it served a purpose … but sometimes we use a table like this as a literal or figurative barrier between us and the people we serve. Instead of being with them, we are giving to them.” His final role play had Mr. Torrence and Jackson on the same side of the table, the two of them chatting as Jackson chose the food that he wanted. 

World Changers
Jackson said, “For me, the biggest takeaway about helping those who are hungry is the importance of getting to know the person you are serving. It will help them get food and build an important connection.” 

Concluding his presentation just as exuberantly as he began, Mr. Torrence challenged the Middle Schoolers to get to work. “You are world changers!” he said. “You, right now, have that possibility.” 

Future Plans
“With the help of our development colleagues, we are reaching out to community partners to schedule more presentations,” said Mrs. Robbins. “Matt Boschen, senior pastor at Effort Baptist Church in Palmyra, Va., and the brother of Luke Boschen ’13, will be our speaker on November 16. He’ll talk about the concept of responsibility and how hard work can lead to success.” Future guest speakers also include Harry Baron ’01, who will talk about diversity, and James Schreiber ’05, who will talk about achievement. Members of the Steward community interested in speaking at a Middle School Series event are invited to contact Mrs. Robbins for more information. 

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