At the beginning of each school year, Dawson selects a community-unifying theme that runs through everything from service learning and campus events, to parent education, community share presentations, and the grade-level buddy program. I am thrilled to talk about this year’s unifying theme: Brave Voices.
The inspiration for a community-unifying theme, also called a “throughline”, came last school year as we explored the ways in which we could help students truly understand what it means to walk in the shoes of a person who is different from themselves. From this work, largely inspired by the phenomenal TED Talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, titled The Danger of a Single Story, the theme “Untold Stories” was born. While this theme appeared throughout the year in almost every classroom across campus, I came to a realization when I had the pleasure of listening to former eighth-grader Ashley Vanek read her graduation speech this past May to a packed audience of Dawson students, families, faculty, staff, and friends. It was then that I recognized the power of using a school-wide theme to assist students in making big connections between academic content and the larger questions about themselves and the world. Ashley’s humorous and moving speech touched on features of the Dawson experience that helped shape her into a confident and fearless young woman, ready to tackle unforeseen challenges. Yet, it was the moment Ashley referenced the “dangers of a single story” as the thing that inspired her to find, develop, value, and then publicly present her “untold story” at graduation that I truly understood the power of a unifying theme, or throughline, to give students the ability to both care about what they’re learning, and the faculty and peer encouragement to connect it to why it matters. A throughline creates an interconnected narrative that - when framed through a students’ inquisitive lens, classroom discussions and research - will spark their innate interest in big, authentic questions about people, themselves, and the world.
This year’s “Brave Voices” throughline will focus on individuals who risked alienation as a result of using their voice to fight injustice or promote a global movement. Embracing their role as future leaders and global citizens, Dawson students will research, study, and explore the ways in which these changemakers - from authors and activists to scientists and innovators - made a remarkable and lasting impact on the world. On this journey of discovery, we know our students will not only learn about individuals who are renown for using their brave voice, but will also develop a brave voice of their own.
This year, there are many exciting examples of upcoming projects connected to our Brave Voices throughline:
Dawson’s eighth graders will use the ThinkLaw curriculum to analyze and argue the fairness and justice of real-life court cases in their humanities and insight rotation courses. The versatility they will need to flex in seeing these controversial cases from all angles will equip them with the empathy needed to develop a compelling brave voice.
Dawson’s third graders will virtually connect and collaborate with peers from around the world while participating in a global “Change Agent Hall of Fame” project. As our young learners identify organizations working to promote racial equality in their own community, they will come in contact with people throughout Las Vegas who channel their brave voices to make a difference.
Annually, there is one signature Dawson event that exemplifies the power of Brave Voices more than any other: the seventh-grade Poetry Slam. In the weeks leading up to the Poetry Slam, students explore the use of figurative language to express a perspective or emotion that is not visible in their daily lives, cultivating and then applying their voices to draw enriching parallels between their personal narratives and the world around them. When the Poetry Slam arrives, I watch as each seventh grader steps up to the microphone to share their fears, frustrations, humor, loves, and passions in front of their peers, and I am in total awe. The trust and faith in one’s peers that is required to stand before them with such raw vulnerability and share an original poem can only be described as an act of bravery. And the support they give each other throughout the process - laughter, tears, and empathy - is a show of camaraderie that can only be formed through that special combination that is so prevalent in our Dawson student community: social acceptance and peer connections. The Poetry Slam is a perfect example of how we teach our students to embrace the vulnerability needed to cultivate a brave voice that, in turn, serves as a model for others.
As 21st-century educators, we simply cannot overstate the value inherent in helping students - our future leaders, social entrepreneurs, and changemakers - to not only understand and value who they are as individuals but, most importantly, to understand their value in, and connection to, the wider world. The use of a unifying throughline such as “Untold Stories” or “Brave Voices” helps bring a somewhat lofty philosophical concept into sharp relief for even the youngest of students by providing a framework for discussing important and challenging themes such as prejudice and discrimination. When students are empowered to use their brave voice to speak out or make the effort to listen with fidelity to the untold stories we all share, the fabric of any school community is immeasurably strengthened and everyone benefits.
As Dawson graduate Ashley Vanek so eloquently stated in her graduation speech, “Dawson isn’t just a place where we can learn; it’s a place where we can experience life.” I cannot wait to discover all of the brave voices in our community...voices of courage and inspiration that I hope, as we experience life together at The Alexander Dawson School, will resonate within all of us.
Welcome to The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain! Located in Summerlin, a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada, The Alexander Dawson School is a non-sectarian, non-profit school offering students in preschool through eighth grade an inspired and meaningful education. Students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.