Head of School Blog: "The Tragedy in Atlanta"

Dear Orchard Friends and Families, 

The killings of eight people in the Metropolitan Atlanta area last week have left our nation in mourning.  Families, friends, and community members have lost loved ones, and we honor their lives in our state and our country with our flags lowered to half mast, and our hearts heavy with sadness.

We also find ourselves in search of answers.  Of the eight victims who died last week, six were people of Asian descent, and seven were women.  Across the weekend people have come together in cities around the country to grieve, and to show solidarity.  Since March 2020, the group Stop AAPI Hate has reported that there have been over 3,800 incidents of hate and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. This comes at a time when a global pandemic has claimed the lives of over 2.7 million people worldwide, and Asian Americans have reported incidents of being blamed and targeted for COVID-19, with characterizations of the coronavirus as the China Virus, and even Kung Flu, as the justification for hateful words or actions. 
You have often heard me say that ours is a school where we want every person to be seen, known, and loved.  We are also No Place for Hate:  five years ago we partnered with the program from the Anti-Defamation League to have a framework for anti-bias education, and a tool for educators and students as we do the ongoing work to build and maintain a school climate and community where everyone is welcome.  This is what we want for our children, for everyone’s children, and for the future that we must all be engaged in building together. 
In moments of tragedy, loss, and seeking answers and solutions in the face of what can feel like insurmountable challenges, I always ground myself in two things:  the insights of great writers, and the words of our students.  The poet, novelist, and memoirist Maxine Hong Kingston writes in her 2003 work The Fifth Book of Peace:
In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.
As a school we are always engaged in creating, learning, growing, and striving to be a community of love and peace for all.
But knowing how to begin in a moment of heartbreak and crisis is always voiced the most clearly by our students.  And so today I return to the question that was spoken, so clear and true, by one of our Orchard elementary students last summer when his parents first shared with him about the death of George Floyd.  When he learned about the responses of people and communities near and far, he responded immediately and directly with this question:  “How can I help?”  In a moment of tragedy and crisis, it is a critical question that moves us to empathize, seek broader understanding, and turn to the work of helping those who have been hurt, disenfranchised, or overlooked.
As we reflect on the tragedy in Atlanta and ask ourselves, “How can I help?”, here are some resources that were recently shared by Donna Orem, President of the National Association of Independent Schools, including resources on combating anti-Asian bias; helping children cope with tragedy; media consumption; and bias and hate crimes in schools and society.  I invite you to take some time to review them as we all think about the conversations that we’re having in our homes and in our communities, and as we follow the example of our children, resolved to help, heal, and honor the lives that have been lost.
With love, peace, and solidarity,
Sherri C. Helvie, Ph.D.
Head of School

Click here to read my last blog "What has Happened in our Nation's Capital"