2022-23 Launches with Call to Widen the Circle

August 17, 2022 / Andrea Wenger
Faculty and staff at Natural Chimneys during fall conference 2022
Faculty and staff at Natural Chimneys during fall conference 2022

“Community” was a theme during the first week of the 2022-23 school year and the preceding week of faculty and staff conference with a similar call. Widening our circles was a subtheme as teachers, staff, and students began to think about what makes a community welcoming to all.

The school year opened August 16 with 383 students: 106 in grades K-5; 118 in grades 6-8; and 157 in grades 9-12.

Paul Leaman, head of school, shared the following demographics with faculty and staff during their week-long conference.

Back to School night. Photo by Annika Harmison ’24

  • 53 faith communities are represented, including Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and multi-faith, and some with no affiliation.
  • 21% identify as various races and ethnicities which are not white
  • 20% qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program
  • 27% receive needs-based tuition assistance 
  • 71% receive tuition support as discounts, scholarships, or other aid
  • 100% benefit from donor support like yours.

The call to notice circles came from Jared Stutzman, as he facilitated morning music during the conference, and with students in grades 6-12 during the first week’s Chapel gatherings. 

“A circle is a beautiful thing… when you are inside it,” said Stutzman, music teacher and choral director. “It’s a great thing when you are in the circle, but it can really hurt if you are outside of the circle.” 

He encouraged listeners to notice circles and invite others in as the school, K-12, focuses on what it means to be a community this year.  

Calling out Bias

The letters IQEE were introduced as tools for teacher and student “tool belts” in the school’s work to move toward its vision of being a school where every student can “belong, thrive, and live God’s call.”

Sharing words and phrases to use in moments when biased comments come up in class or other settings.

Maria Archer, K-8 principal, and Justin King, high school principal, taught people to remember IQEE when they see or hear something that might make someone feel outside of the EMS circle. 

  • I — Interrupt
  • Q — Question
  • E — Educate
  • E — Echo

The tools — listed in no particular order — encourage students, teachers, and staff to interrupt, question, and educate if they hear  a comment, joke, reference, or even attitude that comes at the expense of another person or group. The final “E”, for echo, encourages others to agree with the person who interrupts, questions, and educates if they feel the same.

“Ouch!” and “Hey… I’m not comfortable with that,” are examples of interruptions. “Tell me more,” and “What were you trying to say?” are good questions to ask to give people a chance to think about what they said that was offensive.

“That joke makes me uncomfortable,” is an example of “educate.” And, “Yeah, please don’t say that,” is an example of “echo.”

A new kindergarten student checks out the classroom while parents visit at Back to School night.

“This is a school that works together on anti-bias efforts, across the board,” King reminded faculty and staff, after everyone practiced saying out loud their phrase or word to use when they hear something in the classroom, hallway, dining hall, or athletic field. 

“You’ve got to practice because it can be awkward and hard if something comes up unexpectedly. But we need to call hurtful comments out when they happen, and we need to do it consistently.”

Back to School

Elementary students and families gathered Thursday evening before the start of school, while new and returning students and families in grades 6-12 gathered the following Sunday evening. Energy was high and new acquaintances began. Parents met as class groups with class sponsors while students socialized on the lawn.

On the first day of school, students in Chapel saw Paul Leaman prepare a peach pie. He noted that people are a bit like peaches and most everyone is bruised  once you “peel back the skin.” As a community, he noted, we want to support each other, bruises and all. Watch his chapel.

Paul Leaman made a peace pie during the first chapel, noting that nobody is perfect

Mr. King and Ms. Archer introduced themselves and their shared passion for the Atlanta Braves later in the week. They also introduced the IQEE tools for students to be ready to speak up when they hear hurtful comments, and invite each other — especially new students — into their circle. Watch the chapel here.

Community is the theme for Gathering (K-5) and Chapel (6-12) for the 2022-23 school year. Read more here. 


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