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January 15, 2021

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Weekly dialogue sessions in the middle school focus on social justice, inclusion and human rights. MLK Jr. Day provides another opportunity to focus on Notre Dame's DEI initiative.

On Monday, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated. For students in the nation's primary and secondary schools, it's also an opportunity to learn about and reflect upon what King and his teachings really mean to them as Americans on the cusp of adulthood.

However, specific lesson plans for teachers around MLK Jr. Day oftentimes revolve around King's "I Have a Dream" speech without moving too far beyond. In reality, the movement King helped lead was deeper and much more complex. 

For Kala Parker, Notre Dame's director of diversity and inclusion, bringing King's legacy into the classroom, especially the fact that he always felt compelled to help the marginalized in our society, is a point of emphasis this year.

Moving the needle

"As we work toward moving the needle further in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion work at Notre Dame, we're really striving to make an effort to ensure that we connect all departments and NDPMA divisions as they all own a piece of this work," said Parker, a 2000 NDP graduate. 

"For the last few years, I've worked closely with Head of School Andy Guest (at the Board and administrative levels), campus ministry (i.e., grade-level retreats and workshops), and with teachers on lesson planning that incorporates inclusion. This year, our goal is to continue this dialogue with a specific focus currently on our sixth, seventh and eighth grade classrooms."

To that end, Parker piloted a diversity, equity and inclusion series in the middle school this year to create a comfortable "space" where students can have those types of conversations on a regular basis. She has been working on spending at least two sessions with each grade covering age-appropriate material specific to their specific needs.

"For the eighth graders, we facilitated an 80-minute class period on allyship, which is the practice of emphasizing social justice, inclusion and human rights by members of an 'ingroup' to advance the interests of an oppressed or marginalized 'outgroup,' and to not be a bystander," she said. 

Students discussed 'the bystander effect,' which is a theory that the more people there are around when something occurs, the less likely someone will take action. Parker focused on the idea that God calls everyone to be their brother's keeper and when one sees something going on that doesn't feel right, it's up to each individual to act (whether it's intervening if safe to do so or letting someone know who can intervene, like an adult). 

Valuing the unique traits of others

"We then focused on certain scenarios in groups to discuss how to take action," she said. "This semester we are carrying that idea further and talking about the danger of having only a single story of an individual, group or place with the goal of learning that, to be true allies, we must get to know people as individuals and most especially, learning their story."

For seventh graders in the middle school during the first semester, Parker facilitated two back-to-back community time sessions on identity ("who we are and what's important to us") and how sometimes people wear masks for a variety of reasons to hide their identities. 

"We watched a video about a school in which all the kids wore masks to fit in with particular groups and how some even changed their masks when they hung out with different people or when they saw the 'mask trend' change," she said. "The video's main character had a unique mask and was sort of a loner, but at the end she removed her mask for everyone to see who she really was."

The seventh graders discussed with partners, as a group, and then spent the next week focused on who they are and sketching a picture that represents the layers of their collective identity. 

"This semester, we will be talking more about identity, appreciating our uniqueness, and valuing the unique traits of others."

Perfect springboard

Parker adds that upcoming sixth-grade sessions will focus on what it means to be a good friend.

The overall goal for Parker and Notre Dame is to more deeply weave the DEI dialogue into the work the school is already doing around citizenship, advocacy and the school mission. 

As we head into MLK Jr. Day on Monday, we note that in the months leading up to his assassination more than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. made some of his most important pronouncements against white supremacy, the Vietnam War and international imperialism. But more than at any other time in his life, King’s final focus also was on poverty and economic and social injustice.

For Parker, that focus provides the perfect springboard for even more dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion among students, staff and all Notre Dame stakeholders.

Below are links to a number of local area activities related to Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions?

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at