An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Reem Abu Rahmeh, Middle School director

Middle School Director Reem Abu Rahmeh welcomed parents and guardians at the Middle School Back-to-School Night and spoke about diversity, equity, and inclusion and bringing your full identity to a community, beginning with your name. At the first community meeting of the year, Abu Rahmeh taught students how to pronounce her own name. View a recording and read an excerpt from her Back-to-School night remarks below. 

As I thought about what to share with you today, I was reluctant to dwell on the obvious fact that all of what is happening around us is strange and unpredictable. Mainly because I wanted us today to focus on what is steady and foundational, to reflect and think about some of the unchangeable truths that we can hold onto. I wanted us to take some time to realize that even amidst a pandemic, racial turmoil, a politically charged atmosphere, and most recently the smoke and fires, there are ways for us to be resilient, to be creative, to be change agents, and to be hopeful. 

Here are simple truths: first, you — our parents and guardians! Your commitment to this partnership is unchangeable. Your children will be your priority and you will do everything you can to be at Back-to-School Nights, parent-teacher conferences, Q&A’s, etc.… anything that will contribute to offering the best for your children. The second truth is the Middle School teachers, who have continued to be creative and innovative, to find ways to make a two-dimensional Zoom screen feel like a field of opportunities to engage students in their classes. The third truth, your children — our students’ commitment to their growth and learning, their willingness to take risks in classes, and their commitment to hard work. Finally, Lakeside’s commitment to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable community in which all individuals can participate in and contribute to the life of the school. And this final point is where I choose to focus this evening.

Two weeks ago, when I spoke to Middle School students, I began by teaching them how to say my name. I did that because I wanted to start with an important message about bringing our whole selves into the community. Let me back up to the beginning of the summer, as I was meeting my new colleagues and there was one recurring question. That question was not about my philosophy of education. Or my leadership style. It was simply: How do you want to be referred to at school? Meaning, of course, what name will I go by? To be honest, that was something that I was very aware of. We are always aware of what makes us different, no matter how old we are and what our experience has been in life. My name is definitely not a western familiar name, some sounds don’t even exist in the western alphabet, and given the current global situation, my name can also create a lot of assumptions and stereotypes from people who do not know me. And those thoughts did give me pause. But I thought it was an important question to ponder at this new intersection for me and, more importantly, for the reason that I actually joined Lakeside School. I wanted to be part of the work that was already happening on deepening our understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

We may underestimate the power of conformity, of seeking to belong by absorbing the image of the majority and by slowly becoming similar to each other. We see a lot of outward signs — for example, we change our dress, we change our lingo, we adopt new hobbies, we change our names because it helps us not stand out. But with that we also start losing essential parts of who we are, and we commit to a false sense of diversity. Every day we ask students to contribute to class discussions, to speak up, to express their thoughts and opinions and reflect on their learning. We have to remember that in order for this to happen in a truly diverse community, we must create an environment where every student will not only feel comfortable, but will also be encouraged and expected to bring their whole self to each of their interactions within the Lakeside Community. This is the only way we can “instruct each other in the meaning and value of community” in a truly diverse sense. 

These years are the most important for young adolescents to shape and create who they are. They are questioning and defining their identity and it is crucial that they do this in the safety of acceptance and in the true and deep understanding of where they come from — not to restrict them or influence them, but to broaden and deepen the foundation upon which they build their identity. This year especially has its challenges with remote learning — we may think that we do not really have to engage beyond our own little bubble. Students may not be able to have the organic interactions with others the same way they would when they are physically with each other. So it will take a concerted effort from every student to reach out beyond their comfort, and engage in every forum that is available to them. Students should bring their whole selves to Zoom classes, to discussions, to clubs, to advisories, and will have to make an extra effort to do that effectively online. 

So throughout the year as your student goes through their journey at Lakeside, encourage them to bring their whole selves, engage them in conversations at home that will teach them their heritage, their history, and where they each come from. Encourage them to use the names that they want — not the name that is easier for others. Encourage them to speak up but also encourage them to listen and reach out to new friends. Only then will students be able to engage in their education in a truly holistic way — where diversity is cherished, equity is foundational, and inclusion is a collective responsibility.