Nine Middle School students took part in the inaugural Tidewater Prejudice Awareness Summit, a day-long educational workshop that taught them valuable lessons about inclusion and combating bigotry that exists in society.
The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, which has a longtime partnership with Norfolk Academy, hosted the virtual workshop on October 29. About 100 middle schoolers from schools across Hampton Roads volunteered to attend.
Students began the workshop by watching a video that showed the consequences of prejudice, and demonstrated how people, even inadvertently, can cause hurt through their actions. The video explored how certain phrasing of words can have negative connotations.
The nine NA students then engaged, via Zoom, in conversations with their peers from other schools about ways to show respect and attack prejudice. In small groups through the morning and afternoon, they explored personal experiences with discrimination and developed ways to resolve potentially hurtful situations.
One goal of the summit was to advance students beyond recognition of prejudice, to taking on wrongdoing. The Academy students said they learned ways to step up and are eager to do just that.
Among the lessons the students learned: Don't be a bystander if you witness wrongdoing; think before you speak; be respectful to those different than you by asking thoughtful questions; and remember that everyone has different perspectives.
Adaline Scott '26 said she will make a point of branching out around campus.
“Meet new people and talk to them, rather than just sticking with my friends," Adaline said.
Erin Wainger '26 agreed that reaching out to make new friends is something all students could work on. She's also going to consider specific wording more during conversations. She was struck by a scene in the video that showed several circles and one square, and asked which shape "didn't belong." Erin absorbed a point from the narrator, that just because something or someone looks different, doesn't mean they don't belong.
“Make sure you're being respectful when you're talking," Erin said.
As the day concluded, the NA students were eager to discuss how best to spread the messages they learned throughout the Middle School. They plan to meet soon with English Teacher and Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy Director Jennifer Rodgers, who oversaw their participation in the summit.
Mrs. Rodgers also advises the Middle School CARE Club, which promotes diversity and inclusion.
“This conference is a great way to start these important conversations," Mrs. Rodgers said.