Making connections, fostering community

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Fenwick prides itself on being intentional about community and centered on relationships. The students' connections with God, within themselves, with classmates and colleagues, and among the entire Fenwick Family are both vital and sacred. And these relationships do not happen by accident.

Fenwick consistently looks to build new and creative ways to bring students together and has developed a unique program for just that purpose -- Fenwick Connect.

Connection is the key purpose of Fenwick Connect. While Monday starts the week with an All-School Fenwick Connect, every other morning, the school brings an entire grade level together for prayer, reflection, conversation, and Fenwick's unique public-speaking program, Fenwick Connect and Reflect (FCR). FCR is a public-speaking program where during each morning gathering, two students deliver speeches to their classmates on a topic of their choice. The speeches have been about summer jobs or a travel experience, a news story or a life lesson, about a favorite book or movie, or about an inspiring family member or personal hero; the topics are as diverse as the students.

These speeches serve the dual goal of creating a bond between students and assuring that, upon graduation, each student has had numerous opportunities to speak in public.

Recently, Sarah, a student at Fenwick, gave her Fenwick Connect Speech. The result was not only a wonderful presentation but a heartfelt glimpse into her life and what it means to her to help others.

"Good morning. My name is Sarah, and although I'm going to be speaking this speech for you today, it has been proven that 70-93 percent of all communication is nonverbal. That may sound hard to believe, but I've seen this firsthand. So today I'm going to tell you about my experience as an assistant teacher for an adaptive dance class.

For the last five years, I've spent every Sunday assisting an adaptive dance class consisting of students with a disability or who are neurodivergent. Shortly before class, Allie, Hailey, Rani, Val, and Kasey, (names in this article have been changed for privacy reasons) five of my favorite people, walk into the dance studio. I greet them and have conversations with them before the start of class. Though I help all the dancers in the class, I mostly work alongside Kasey. She always walks into the studio with her sunglasses, a colorful shirt, and pink painted nails, ecstatic and ready to dance.

Kasey is mostly nonverbal, but that doesn't stop us from communicating. When she walks in, I greet her enthusiastically, and she either waves or makes the sound of the letter H to say hi in return. I always give her a compliment because receiving a compliment is a great way to start the day. She replies by putting the heel of her hand to her chin and then moving it away from her face. This is the sign for "thank you." I respond with the same hand motion, which also means, "you're welcome." Next, I ask her about her week, and she responds through sign language, short sounds of the first letter of words, and help from her dad. Often he will name something that they did that week, and Kasey will elaborate on what he mentioned with hand gestures and expressions of excitement.

When the clock hits noon, we begin class at the barre doing various ballet exercises. I stand next to Kasey as she holds onto the barre, and we do plies to warm up. The exercises get progressively more difficult as the class continues. After each exercise, I give Kasey a high five; her face always lights up.

Dance brings joy to all the girls in the class, but this joy isn't found quickly. I've had multiple conversations with them and their parents about the struggles of finding a dance studio that accepted and made space for dancers with disabilities. Our dance studio also struggles to find competitions for these dancers. The girls and their families must seek out programs or opportunities that many children have readily available for them. Despite the struggles these girls face, they have extremely positive outlooks on life. Kasey's genuine joy not only for dance but for life has helped me enjoy life more. Dancing with Kasey and the class every Sunday is always a highlight of my week and will be one of the aspects of my life I will miss most once I go to college. Because of my relationship with Kasey, I have learned so much about what living with a disability can look like. The girls inspire me not to take anything for granted, and I am beyond grateful for my relationship with them. Because of Kasey's impact on me, I plan to continue to connect with people who have disabilities or neurodivergence. I want to create more opportunities for them and use my voice to amplify the thoughts of those who might not be able to use their own voice."

Sarah is just one of the hundreds of Fenwick students who share laughter, fears, joy, and dreams with their classmates as they create the lifelong bond that is the Fenwick family.