Community in Committee | The Circle School


Over the past year, I was a member of The Circle School’s ad hoc Anti-Racism Committee, formed by the Board of Trustees in February 2021. I’m so grateful for the perspective I gained through this work, and in conversations with my fellow committee members (Kirsten Reinford, Michelle Loucas, Hladini Mensah, and JD Stillwater).

At our weekly ad hoc committee meetings, the five of us began by checking in with each other, and sharing information about our days and lives. Over the course of the year, we celebrated each other’s birthdays, new jobs, and small victories. We empathized with each other over pandemic losses, events in the news, personal turmoil, and daily setbacks. We came to really know each other.

In the spirit of that connectedness, let me tell you a bit about who I am. When we return from Spring Break later this April, I’ll have been on staff at The Circle School for seven years, with most of that time spent in the school office. Here, the office is not isolated from the rest of the school. Students pop in and out throughout the day, and from time to time, one will approach me at my computer and ask, “So, what do you do here, all day?” When that happens, I usually launch into a little monologue about the elected positions I hold at school (Business Manager, Registrar), or start reading from my interminable to-do list (gift acknowledgements to send, tuition accounts to manage, bookkeeping to enter) until that student starts to back away slowly, leaving me to it.

I’m a learner. Since coming on staff in 2015, I’ve tried to absorb as much nuance as possible about The Circle School’s philosophy and practice of self-directed democratic education. I’m also a dreamer; I spend a lot of time thinking about how The Circle School will grow into the 21st century. As members of the ad hoc Anti-Racism Committee, Kirsten, Hladini, Michelle, JD and I did a Iot of learning, and a lot of dreaming. 

As an action-oriented, “down to business” person (I am, after all, the Business Manager), it took a while for me to see the value of the time we spent at our ad hoc Anti-Racism Committee meetings talking about ourselves and our lives. Sometimes, when it was my turn to check in, I’d say, “I’m feeling busy and ready to dive into our agenda!”. Eventually, though, I came to see these check-ins as an integral part of our anti-racism work: allowing us to operate not just as a committee conducting business, but as people coming together to find connection and build on each other’s ideas. To work not just in collaboration, but in community, you must know your community members, and from what context they approach the work.

The importance of slowing down and checking-in with each other was reiterated by Toni Graves Williamson, who facilitated focus group conversations for Circle School community members last fall. Toni introduced me to Courageous Conversations about Race by Glenn E. Singleton. In that book, Singleton explains that people approach conversations about race differently: some from an intellectual perspective, some from an emotional perspective, some from a place of enthusiasm, some from a place of trepidation.

As for me, I approach this work from a place of deep love for The Circle School. I intend to do my part to help the school thrive for years to come. I believe that the work of anti-racism is integral to ensuring that The Circle School can best carry out the Ends We Seek, which I see as the school’s core values. I believe continuing the work of anti-racism will allow our community to grow, making self-directed democratic education available to more folks in the Harrisburg area.

This perspective I’ve gained through this work has already changed how I approach my staff role at The Circle School. During the day, when there’s work to do, my calendar is full of meetings, and the phone is ringing, I try to remember to SLOW DOWN — to remember that finding moments of fellowship is the work. When a student approaches me and asks me what I’m doing, to find a moment of connection and ask them how they’re doing. 

There is so much we can learn with and from each other. Each of us will approach the road of anti-racism differently: some lacing up our worn running shoes, some as barefoot youth, some nursing injuries, some with excitement or fear at an unfamiliar path, some calculating how long the journey might take… but it is my hope that we will travel this journey together, wherever it leads, and arrive there a stronger, more equitable, and inclusive Circle School community.

Ellen Abbott

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