Gunnery students attend club fair

Students at the Gunnery in Washington recently chose after-class, after-co-curriculars, after-homework pursuits at the club fair.

Students gathered around two tables representing the three groups shepherded by the new director of diversity, Jennifer Wojcik.

Wojcik is chairwoman of the performing arts, an online professor at two universities, a PHD candidate in global, international and multicultural education, a teacher of humanities, a flautist of some repute, and the wife and mother of a young family.

Before the term started, Wojcik introduced herself to faculty by referring to the variability among the students because of “life experiences mediated by a variety of factors including race, ethnicity, gender and social class.”

She spoke of the responsibility of teachers who are working with students confronted with “bringing their previous experiences, their home perspectives, and identities into the classroom, onto the stage, in the art studio, on the playing field and in the dorm.”

“Our students may need to reflect and reach back to their previous experiences in order to better understand how to succeed and move forward,” said Wojcik, referring to the beginnings of the school under founder Frederick Gunn, who pursued abolition and social justice in the 19th century.

“These lessons can and should guide us in our learning environments to engage our students and each other in these difficult questions,” Wojcik said.

Students are taking up the challenges.

Chloe Coppola, of the class of 2016, cut her activist teeth as a freshman, raising money for Sandy Hook, and this year she is heading up a group which calls itself “Students for Social Awareness.”

She’s seen interest grow in these issues in her time at the school.

“People are now coming up to me to express their interest in participating,” she said.

This year, among other pursuits, she is planning the school’s participation in Denim Day in support of survivors of sexual assault.

Denim Day is a national movement that takes place during the month of April.

Gabby Lescadre, also of the class of 2016, organized a “Spirit Day,” which involved wearing purple to take a stand against bullying.

“I ask the students who are sponsoring these activist activities to give an informational talk in school meeting to fully inform the community of the thrust and impact of their issue,” Wojcik said.

Han “Ivy” Le, of the class of 2016, whose junior speech was about the brutalization of gay people in her home country of Vietnam, spoke for the Gay-Straight Alliance.

“The most important part of our message is its ability to raise awareness, to educate listeners about gay people, about the history of the movement for equal rights in the LGBT community. I’m hoping to promote awareness with videos, etc.,” she said.

New faculty in the World Languages Department, Lindsey Dirats, has signed on to help this group with their plans.

Ten students have expressed interest in helping Tessa Mackey, of the class of 2016, expand the reach of her project to fulfill the Tri-M Music Society’s community service requirement last year.

Tessa gathered contents for Blessing Bags to assist the homeless in Torrington.

This year, as part of the Students for Social Justice group, they will collect things like soap, shampoo and shaving materials and work with institutions such as the YMCA to provide places to shower and wash up for job interviews and other occasions as well as bus tickets and other coupons.

“It’s my hope to have the students see what a difference it makes to give a hand up, rather than a hand out; to give physical donations rather than just dollars, both for the recipients and for the donors,” Wojcik said.

The group is planning a newsletter, “Bursting the Bubble.”

Seli Gadese-Mensah, of the class of 2017, a new student from Ghana, has brought his enthusiasm and alternate experience to the group.

Wojcik was contacted by Bethany Grupp, a 22-year-old Central Connecticut graduate, who worked with Becky’s Home, an orphanage in Ghana that she discovered as a volunteer with International Volunteer HQ.

She has continued to be involved with the orphanage and is looking forward to working with Seli’s team.