On October 4th, the Chicago Waldorf High School began a new tradition. Speakers from diverse backgrounds led students in various seminars. The Colloquium left no stone unturned, looking at all kinds of topics, from racism to black holes to improv. Although it passed by quickly in the hectic scramble of holidays and the yearly all high school camping trip, the planning of our first Colloquium was no small feat. Teachers Patricia Pierce and Sarah Wellington led preparations for months, and the result was an amazing, unforgettable day.
As Ms. Pierce put it, ideas had been “brewing for a while”. The planning for the Colloquium first began toward the end of last year, when it was discovered that a “free-floating day” was stuck between a three-day weekend and our departure for the camping trip. This sparked a conversation among the faculty. Ms. Pierce said, “We wanted to do something that would help connect the students to the world and the issues that spoke to them.” Ms. Wellington agreed, saying that the point of the day was to provide students with an outlet for their ideas. “This was an opportunity for students to have input into the process, to suggest topics they would be interested in exploring and speakers they would like to invite into the school.” With that, the teachers went their separate ways for the summer, allowing ideas for the day to percolate.
“We wanted to help connect students to the world and to the contemporary issues that spoke to them”
By the time we came back from summer vacation, a few seminars had already been identified: including three Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) workshops on racism, classism and sexism, and the Gender and Sexual Identity seminar, led by CWS alum, Avi Bowie, now Director of Programs at the Center on Halsted. High school student suggestions were then solicited and new contacts were added to the roster. They included documentary film-maker and director of the Youth/Police project, Chaclyn Hunt and Zoheyr Doctor from the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics whose lecture on black holes and gravitational waves had already inspired several CWS students.
Through a connection of Ms. Pierce's, ten CWS students were invited to visit the Kovler Center, a refuge for victims of politically sanctioned torture. Komlanvi Dalmeida, an asylee from Togo, West Africa, was asked to come and speak of his experiences and pose the question “What can I do to help?”. Yesenia Villasenor from the Climate Change Project offered to share information on the causes, impacts and possible solutions to our current environmental crisis, while poet, cin salach and improviser, Katelyn Woolcott, proposed asking the question “Who am I?” through artistic workshops.
The event was a huge success, in no small part due to wonderful speakers. Each one volunteered their time, agreeing that this day was too important to miss. They came and shared their stories, bringing new and exciting viewpoints to the students and opening up dialogue around essential conversations.
Ms. Pierce added that having these conversations would “help us take action and make sense of this world in a real way by meeting people.” She recalled one speaker’s message: "A smile to a stranger could change everything."
So now we are left with one question:
What’s the next step?
According to Ms. Pierce, “That depends on the students. It is the hope of the faculty that, in the future, these colloquiums will be even more student-led…this is a starting point.” Ms. Wellington agreed, “Having a voice is not just about having an idea…it is about putting that voice to work.” So, now we must put our ideas into words, and then put those words into action. Every journey begins with a first step.
Onwards to Colloquium 2017 and further Calls to Action!!
Special thanks to:
12th grader Abigail St. John who wrote this article (with faculty member Sarah Wellington)
Photographs by 10th grader, Seamus Scott