Buckley launches learning partnership with Facing History And Ourselves

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Buckley students and teachers attended the Summit On School Culture in October in Manhattan.

Buckley Country Day School has been invited to become an official member of the Partner School Network of Facing History And Ourselves. This partnership has led to several pioneering initiatives in both the school’s humanities curriculum and the Upper School advisory program.

Buckley is the only Long Island school and the only independent school to be welcomed into the New York Partner Network. It is also extremely rare that a school would be asked to join the partnership after only one year.

Facing History, however, was so impressed with the work that Buckley’s students and teachers have been doing in the spheres of social good, diversity, inclusivity, multicultural texts, and project-based learning that the program leaders made an exception to expedite Buckley’s inclusion into its educational cohort.

“We are extremely excited to be collaborating with Facing History to enrich our advisory program, because we recognize that social and emotional development is crucial for adolescents in negotiating stress, peer connections, and life choices,” said Mercer Hall, Buckley’s head of upper school.

Facing History is an organization that since 1976 has sought to address ethical citizenship in an evolving world. Their philosophy addresses bias and stereotypes in helping teachers foster a community of upstanders. In particular, they encourage students to “connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives.” This means providing educational resources that confront prejudice, promote leadership, and cultivate equity in the classroom.

“From the outset I was impressed with the school’s dedication to integrating intellectual rigor, emotional engagement, and ethical reflection into the coursework,” said Katie Leo, Facing History’s program associate and Buckley liaison. “This desire, coupled with the administration’s commitment to fostering dialogue, empathy, and civic participation are a few of the many reasons why we are thrilled to welcome the Buckley community into our Partner School Network.”

As a partner school, Buckley receives fully-funded participation in all aspects of Facing History’s pedagogical endeavors. Teachers enjoy free attendance at workshops and seminars, professional development from an expert program liaison, a full library of publications and curricula, and individualized support in establishing new programs.

One of the most exciting ventures in the Facing History partnership lies in Buckley’s new advisory program. The relationship between the advisor, student, and parent has long been a foundation of Buckley’s Upper School experience. Now, a rich, layered program called “Community Matters” is being piloted to deepen that connection and to nurture student voice.

The purpose of advisory is to make children feel valued and empowered by validating their individual identities. Buckley’s advisors provide an interpersonal connection and a mutual trust to help each child feel confident and successful. The new advisory program fosters inclusive classrooms and school culture through student engagement, achievement, and agency. The emphasis is on social and emotional learning, through a focus on identity, belonging, and participation.

Admissions Director Colleen Fortuna initiated the relationship between Buckley and Facing History by applying for a grant in the spring of 2018 for teacher scholarships to attend summer workshops.

That July and August, Head of Upper School Mercer Hall and Literacy Specialist Laura Uhr participated in “Teaching To Kill A Mockingbird,” a multi-day session about the legacy of race and literary “classics.”

Library Director and history teacher Patricia Russac and English teacher Natasha Chadha engaged in a weeklong workshop about “Immigration In A Changing World: Identity, Citizenship And Belonging.” During this most recent summer, English Teacher Maria Newman attended a seminar on “Democracy At Risk: Holocaust And Human Behavior.”

These professional development opportunities have proven extremely valuable. The resource materials combine a Language Arts and social studies approach by incorporating personal memoirs and primary sources into classroom study. Buckley’s educators have a wealth of videos, texts, and frameworks from which to draw in connecting individual student identity to literature, history, and current events.

Leo led a faculty workshop last year about student-centered classrooms in helping to usher in the new block schedule for the Upper School. On Monday, September 23, 2019, Leo returned for an Upper School faculty meeting to help implement the new advisory program. She is also going to be involved in assisting with mentoring for Buckley’s inaugural capstone project.

As part of the partnership, several Buckley teachers and students attended the fall Summit On School Culture in October in Manhattan. The school will also join the Winter Gathering of best practices, and it is looking ahead to the biannual Network Conference and Study Tour about “Working For Justice, Equity and Civic Agency In Our Schools,” in Montgomery, Alabama.

Finally, Leo will be returning to Buckley in April when the school hosts a professional development session for the New York State Association of Independent Schools all about Facing History’s “Community Matters” program.

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