Spence's fourth Teach-In offered an opportunity to discuss the lives of women around the world.
With a day packed with special assemblies, workshops and presentations, Spence held its fourth annual Teach-In entitled Women and Girls around the Globe; Living, Learning, Leading. The event, which allows the entire School a pause from the daily academic schedule to deeply consider a single theme, focused this year on the diverse experiences of women and girls. From a Kindergarten class that met with a female FBI agent to an engaging Upper School talk on reproductive rights as led by the former director of Planned Parenthood, this year's Teach-In offered wide opportunity to consider the work, and lives, of women.
"Today, we will experience what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a leader, and what it means when the two combine," said student body president Charlotte J. '12 in her welcoming remarks at the Lower School's opening assembly.
Lower School students met with professionals working in fields in which women are typically underrepresented. Middle School students focused on issues of stereotypes and confidence, while Upper School students examined women's representation, empowerment and voice. At the close of the day, Lower School students gathered in an assembly to share their impressions and present cheers they had devised. Grade 5-7 students convened in smaller advisory groups, while Grade 8 students joined a dynamic open-mic Upper School assembly.
The more than 45 workshops across all three divisions throughout the day featured such outside presenters as political advisors, professional dancers, scholars, authors and executives working alongside Spence faculty. The day's discussions were greatly enhanced by participation of Spence alumnae who attended several sessions and also led workshops of their own. An alumna who is now an employee of a leading tech firm addressed Grade 8 and Upper School students, describing her experience working in a largely male-dominated industry and why more women need to get involved. A panel of alumnae led a discussion on women in finance, highlighting both the strides women have made and the ground still to cover.
From the opening division-wide assemblies and gatherings to a series of hour-long presentations and workshops, students were offered full engagement in a smorgasbord of ideas, discussions, stories and inspirations. TV journalist Deborah Roberts spoke to Upper School students and faculty, stitching her own stories of growing up in the segregated south together with her coverage of the plight of women in underdeveloped countries. While Lower School students were designing inventions of their own with a mobile phone design engineer, Middle and Upper School students engaged in wide-ranging discussions about the moral, social, economic and medical imperatives of women's advancement.
"Because of the faith we have in our students, we just knew we could give them three disparate workshops that have the common thread of unique experiences for women and trust that they'd be comfortable with it," commented José De Jesús, director of outreach and public purpose who also oversees the annual Teach-In. "And that's what happened. We didn't pull back to generalities because we believe in all three divisions to make the connections across topics."
The Teach-In, an idea initiated by the Head of School, has provided Spence students and faculty the opportunity to delve into diverse topics including elections and the democratic process, conflict in the modern world and a close examination of New York City. The theme of women and girls compliments the School's broader focus on gender identity this year, a topic brought to light by the visit of Head's Forum speaker Dr. Peggy McIntosh and sustained through the discussions of the Middle and Upper School diversity series.
For Upper School students who gathered for the closing assembly of Grades 8-12, an open exchange proved an opportunity to share thoughts and reflections summing up their Teach-In experience.
"Something that came up in all my workshops today was self-esteem," commented Haleigh C. '13. "We are in a really wonderful position because we have been educated, but it's our responsibility to use that education and to encourage other women to respect their own opinions and love themselves."