Last week, middle schoolers gathered together in the Lowell Center to welcome guest speaker Jennifer De Leon, award winning author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From and the essay collection White Space: Essays on Culture, Race, & Writing. This was the kick off for DCD’s annual CommUNITY Day, now combined with the middle school conference to celebrate difference and belonging within our DCD community. Ms. De Leon discussed her experience as an adolescent, sharing that, as a first generation Guatemalan-American, she recalled well her own struggle of assimilating in predominantly white spaces, and described her split experience of feeling like two versions of herself. At school and in her town of Framingham, MA, she was surrounded by whiteness, a sharp distinction from the culture embodied by her Guatemalan family. This dichotomy between her home life and school life, and the challenge of integrating the two, later became the basis for her novel.

Referring to the writing process for her book Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Ms. De Leon explained, “This book took me two years and my whole life.” It tells the story of Liliana Cruz, a first generation Latinx highschooler in Boston’s METCO program—an organization that sends Boston students of color to predominantly white schools. Ms. De Leon read an excerpt of the book and then opened up the floor for questions.

One student asked, “If you read House on Mango Street when you were younger, would your life have been different?” Earlier in the discussion Ms. De Leon had mentioned that the first time she read a book by a Latinx writer was when she was nineteen years old at Connecticut College. Now, Ms. De Leon tied her experience to the concept of windows and mirrors. It would have been monumental for her to see someone like herself reflected in her early literacy experiences— a mirror. She also wrote her books to provide windows into her unique stories and experiences. DCD strives to provide an inclusive multicultural education, which celebrates the diversity of our community and the larger world. Each student’s unique story has a place in our classrooms.

After an engaging opening session, middle school students went to their workshop locations throughout their classrooms, which were assigned based on surveys completed ahead of time so that everyone was matched based on their interests and curiosities.

Workshops and Facilitators included:

  • “Career Exploration & Education for Middle School Students?” (Dottie Catlin)
  • “Breathwork – A Moment to Pause, Breathe and Relax” (Laura Martinez)
  • “Photography and Identity” (Dee Tran)
  • “Pins Inspired by Personal Symbols” (Karen Eutemey)
  • “From Sports to the Pink Tax 2.0: Exploring Gender Equity” (Elaine Gage)
  • “What’s in a Name? Name Story Poems and Authentic Voice” (Quintin Collins)
  • “Writing and Drawing Personal Comics” (Jonathan Todd)
  • “You are What you Eat”- How is food connected to your identity? Highlighting Asian American and Multi-racial Identity” (Regina Hardatt)
  • “Financial Education 101” (Lori DeLeo and Maya Halabi)
  • “The Social Dilemma Documentary Screening and Discussion” (Laura Foody)

Dedham Country Day is strongly committed to building and ensuring a sense of community in which every member is safe, valued, and treated with dignity. We believe that a broad range of experiences and viewpoints enhances learning and enriches life. Thank you to all of the workshop facilitators and a special thank you to Mrs. A-C for organizing this special experience for our school!