Updated: Sep 18, 2022
By Lila Elkins
Over the past few weeks, the students in the Upper School were asked if they feel accepted at Barrack. The responses varied, but there was overall agreement that our goal as a Kehilla should be to ensure that no student feels insecure or left out. Interestingly, six out of the eight students interviewed by the Chronicle said the social situation at Barrack has not changed since last year, meaning, most friend groups are the same since before the coronavirus.
The issue with this is that even though the friendships haven't changed, the environment has. We can no longer be with each other the way we once were. According to one student, this new change causes students and their peers to feel “divided and crave social interaction” despite still having friends. For the students that want to branch out, this year in particular is much harder because of the physical and emotional barriers that come with a hybrid learning environment. There is also a lack of receptiveness toward those students that attempt to branch out because other students are hesitant to reach out to new students or outsiders in this year of uncertainty. It seems that Barrack is made up of closed-off friend groups and students who are knocking at the locked doors trying to be accepted into something that was determined years ago. Now is the only time we have, so how as a community do we ensure that students can be themselves and feel secure at this school?
All of the students interviewed were asked: “What can we do to make Barrack a more accepting place?” A 10th grader stated, “[We should] work on doing things [together] as grades ... and not in little groups.” It seems that students at Barrack are very susceptible to splitting off into cliques and not getting a proper opportunity to mingle with every student in their grade. An 11th grader said to “mix up people so they get to know each other.” A group of 12th graders said “to have the ‘9th grade bonding activity’ every year.” Barrack’s past efforts to bond its grades have evidently not been successful enough as students still crave openness and acceptance. However, it seems as if the students at this school seem very willing to branch out, which in their own opinions, leads to acceptance.
An obvious solution can be derived from all of the students interviewed; have the school intentionally mix up students so they get to know each other. While this seems easy and simple, what happens if the students do not talk to someone new? How can an organized activity work if students aren’t willing to meet new classmates? Friendship cannot be forced. Some schools have tried to mix up their students as an approach to diversify friendships, but simply mixing up students is not a solution to feeling accepted at Barrack, even though that seems like a common and easy response. The truth about how anyone and everyone can feel accepted does not lie in the hands of others.
Ultimately, the Barrack community is filled with students who want to be accepted, but the culture lends itself to be a place filled with groups. All students must be willing to open themselves up to change for the community to become a welcoming environment. There is a famous Jewish saying from a sage called the Chofetz Chaim that says, “When I was young I tried to change the world, but found it was hard to do that, so I tried to change my town. I couldn’t change my town, so I tried to change my family. I wasn’t able to change my family and finally I realized that I could only change myself.” Every student must try to become the change they want to see. Do you want nice people to come up to you and ask you about your day? Be that person for someone else. Social acceptance at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy is achieved when students accept who they are and actively try to change the culture around them.