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Each year at the semester break students in grades 4-12 participate in an all-school read,and meet in cross-divisional discussions groups when schedules permit. This year students read “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” the Harvard Commencement Address given by author J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) in 2008. In the address, Rowling speaks of the wisdom gained through setbacks, and the importance of being able to imagine yourself in the lives of others and to “imagine better.”
“We thought this speech would be engaging for our students while also providing a framework for them to talk about their own ideas of failure,” said Jessica Bremmer, English Department chair. “Rowling encourages us to change how we think about failure, and reading and listening to her speech created a moment of deliberate reflection and discussion about a concept we think is vital to our students' learning.
Each teacher handles the read and its follow-up activities differently to fit the needs of their classes. Some 6th and 9th grade classes met for small group discussions, as did a 5th and 12th grade class. Many Lower School classes read excerpts rather than the entire speech. Some classes read the speech and then watched a video of the address to analyze differences in their understanding of written and verbal works. Ms. Stevenson’s junior and senior classes paired the speech with Joan Didion’s essay "On Self-Respect." Some Upper School classes wrote letters to their Lower School selves, reframing a “failure” from that time and reflecting on how they grew from the experience.
“The students’ responses were great,” said Bremmer. “They noticed how they were kind to themselves in their writing for this project, while in practice they aren’t. They also had great suggestions about more we can do as a school and ways in class to allow for more failure without high stakes for students. And the Upper School students loved getting to know more Lower School students–they thought they were quite astute.”
This was the third annual all-school read. In the first two years students read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Malala Yousafzai’s children’s book “Malala’s Magic Pencil” and her United Nation’s speech.
We invite you to read or view the speech here and extend the conversation at home.
From left: Sarah L., Isabella L., Lauren B., Jossalyn Emslie, Sarah B., Deijah B., Chloe D. (Not pictured: Meghan X. '19, from Diamond Bar High School.)
The genesis of Internist Jossalyn Turner Emslie’s ’83 internship program was simple enough: girls in her daughter’s Girl Scout troop asked if they could shadow Emslie and word spread on the Westridge campus after the program’s first year. But Emslie, passionate about female mentorship, especially in medicine, reached far past a shadowing program to develop an intense, once-in-a-lifetime experience for Westridge students (and a few other girls as well).
“High school girls don’t know enough yet to get a lot out of shadowing a doctor,” said Emslie. So, she created a formal (and jam-packed) curriculum to help students see what it looks like to work in different specialties or be a researcher, understand what it takes to get into and through medical school, consider the challenges unique to women in the field, and learn how to access mentors and other educational and professional opportunities.
“I only do this for girls and I think this is the fault of Westridge!” said Emslie, whose daughters Caitlin ’12 and Maddie ’16, are also alumnae. She believes in Westridge because it is “a place where girls are first-class citizens in all they do and where they learn to be themselves without societal gender assumptions.” She has a similar belief in the power of female mentorship. “There is a long history of male mentorship—they call it the old boys’ network, and men and boys expect mentor relationships. But this isn’t the norm for women…I think it is important for women to mentor girls and for girls to have a place to experience this with only girls.”
In the field of medicine, she said, women perform differently and are viewed differently by patients. Because of that, she believes it is important to have women in the caring professions. Yet women are still underrepresented in medicine, especially in top positions, and are paid less—a gap that is increasing, unlike the overall gender wage gap.
“I love what I do, and I want to inspire the girls to continue to follow their interest in medicine,” said Emslie. “I tell them ’each individual’s body is the most critical thing to them…in medicine, people bring that (body) to you and every day, after seeing you, someone has less fear, less pain, or lives longer. Every day. And on top of that, you get a pay check.’”
"I am forever grateful to Dr. Emslie for welcoming us into her world with such open arms and giving us the opportunity to network, make new doctor contacts, and witness all the beautiful things about medicine."
“Shadowing Dr. Emslie and meeting a plethora of people in a variety of healthcare professions was such a unique opportunity in that it allowed us to experience and witness so many different areas of medicine” said Lauren B. ’19. “I don’t think I would have discovered my desire to be an OB-GYN if it weren’t for this experience, because I wouldn’t have seen it first hand as a high school student still in the midst of becoming who I am. My biggest takeaway from this experience was discovering more about myself and about what I want for my future career in medicine.”
Of note—this story contains one other Westridge connection! Emslie works with Westridge parent Hani Sami, M.D. (Nathalie ’12) in the Sierra Madre medical group he founded.
More about the program...
- Conduct research into how to become a doctor, how to get into medical school, and what happens after med school graduation
- See patients/work with doctors and a nurse practitioner in: family medicine; radiology; OB-GYN (Westridge parent Della Fong, M.D.); gynecology; cardiology; and clinical research
- Meet with: a hospital chief medical officer, a medical school clinical faculty member, a medical school student (Nathalie Sami ’12, now at USC), a psychologist, a gastroenterologist, an academic clinical researcher (M.D./Ph.D.), and clinical medical assistants
- Tour a hospital and a medical school
- Attend a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows program research presentation day at Caltech
- Create/present an individual patient presentation based on notes taken during a patient meeting and additional research
- Learn to measure blood pressure and use simple diagnostic instruments on each other
This story was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of Surgere Magazine.
A powerful MLK Day Assembly, hosted by the Upper School Student Voices group, highlighted the similarities between past and current fights against injustice through a combination of images, poetry, memoirs, and audio clips.
“As a community we owe it to Dr. King’s legacy to remain educated about the sources of injustice in our country ranging from everyday microaggressions to deep systemic problems and inequitable systems that continue to oppress members of our society and people of color,” said Caroline P. ’20.
Students displayed eight sets of images paralleling events from the 1960s and the past five years, including:
- The March 1965 Selma to Montgomery voter rights march, known as Bloody Sunday, and the 2015 march on Edmund Pettus Bridge commemorating the 50th anniversary of the event as well as a woman marching against voter suppression in 2018.
- A family mourning a 14-year-old victim of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 and community members at a memorial for victims of the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
- Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes posting together with fists raised in Esquire in 1971 and Jane Fonda and Black Lives Matter Founder Patrisse Cullors in a similar pose in a 2018 edition of Harpers Bizarre, emblematic of “the importance of allyship in the justice movement” standing next to and behind those fighting for justice.
After providing context for the photos, poetry related to the events was read, or audio clips from news of the events was played, providing first-person language and perspective to the history.
Senior Oona L. closed the assembly saying, “Now is the time to speak your mind―not just in spaces that are ideologically similar, but around people with whom you disagree. The fight for justice begins with young people like us, participating in an exchange of ideas as a community.”
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