On Saturday, November 10, Dedham Country Day hosted the 2018 AISNE Middle School Diversity Conference drawing 300 students from grades 5 to 8 from 35 independent schools throughout New England. It was a day of connection, camaraderie, and discovery as students moved between 17 different workshops and came together as a larger group for two special keynote sessions and shared meals. The theme of this year’s conference, “Use Your Voice,” enabled students from many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and orientations to explore the many different strands that define diversity, culture, and identity and to reflect back on their own stories and how they might activate their own voice.

Embracing the opportunity to host such an impactful event, DCD faculty and staff worked closely with AISNE, the Association of Independent Schools in New England, to plan and lead a meaningful and robust day for middle-school students. Upon registering for the conference, students were able to choose two workshops to attend during the day, including “Identity and the Arts,” “Voice Yourself: An Introduction to Screen writing,” “Let’s Salsa,” “All of Who I Am: LGBTQ+,” “Finding Your Voice: Adolescents and Activism,” “Let’s Cook: Examining the Hungry Planet,” or “What Do You Think? Bias, Perception and Influence Through Media and Advertising,” to name a few.
Shantae Edwards, social entrepreneur, empowerment speaker, and impact coach, captivated the students with her own story during the first keynote session of the day. ZeeZee Canning, DCD Class of 2014, and Ben Khan, both interdisciplinary artists, led the second keynote session sharing how they are using their voice through multimedia and art in a production project that combines technology, film, and the stage.

The conference wrapped up with an opportunity for students to come up and share some thoughts and impressions from the day. The adults at the conference were astounded by the length of the line that formed at the front of the room of eager students wanting to share what they had taken away from the day. For some, the day was about connection and feeling a part of something bigger, and for others, it was a day to be with kids “just like them.” DCD eighth grader Mathew Volfson stepped up to the microphone, so taken with all that he had learned and with the new connections he had made. Reflecting on his experience upon returning to school after the weekend, he said, “This conference really opened my eyes to what we can do even as kids and helped me to see that there are others with similar ideas to mine.”