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Creating Community: Goshen Friends School & Frederick Douglas Christian School

In a world that is becoming more diverse every moment, there are still settings that are predominately either white or black. Many factors combine to create these “pockets” (something to ponder on another day), but the question remains how can such places achieve cultural competence and experience diverse situations? And, some would wonder, why try? The area surrounding Philadelphia contains wealthy suburbs, lush horse country and a second urban hub, Chester. The proximity of these varied locales can result in unique situations. A few years ago, a retired public school music teacher began teaching in two independent elementary schools, neither of which is far from her home in Wallingford. The schools are very similar. The student body of both schools spans Kindergarten through fifth grade with each serving approximately 60 students. Both are faith based schools. There is one difference. All of the students at Frederick Douglass Christian School are black. The students of Goshen Friends School are predominately white.

Dividing her week between the two schools, Tr. Charmagne DeVinney recognized that both communities could grow and learn about each other, and should. She approached the heads of both schools, one white and one black, and proposed that the children be given the chance to meet each other. Both administrators recognized an amazing opportunity. You may stop reading here thinking, “What’s so amazing? This happens all the time--people from the suburbs volunteering to help urban kids.” But that was neither the intent nor the result of the relationship that has blossomed between the two schools.

It’s not easy coordinating a play date for 120 children ranging in age from five to twelve, but the faculty and staff of FDCS and Goshen Friends made in happen. In the fall of 2011, the students from Chester piled onto buses and made their way out to the suburbs to meet the children they had been corresponding with and hearing about from their music teacher. Of course, music and singing were an important part of the first “Friendship Day”, but a more tangible piece was what the day represented--the beginning of a new, diverse community that was created whenever the two schools were together.

Since that first meeting in West Chester, the two schools continue to meet and every February they join together in Chester to celebrate Black History Month with a concert. As families from both schools gathered for this year’s performance, parents, grandparents, teachers, and siblings celebrated the talents of the children that they consider part of a cohesive community they have mindfully and purposefully created.

The relationship between these two schools is unique and important. It is not a relationship based upon one group “reaching out” to improve the situation of the other. Instead, it is a relationship built upon mutual respect, friendship and common bonds. The community created by the interaction of the two schools will forever serve as a model for its members.

More information about FDCS can be found at www.worldimpact.org. To learn more about Goshen Friends School visit www.goshenfriends.org.

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