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Assemblies Expand Academic, Cultural Horizons

Introduced by the ICGL scholars, Kim Greene, chairman, president and CEO of Southern Company Gas discusses different energy sources at an assembly on Oct. 24. Photo: Abby Meyerowitz

With a cappella groups, puppies and even multi-cultural dancers taking over the FAC stage each week, you might mistakingly think Pace has become its own Cirque du Soleil. Through Pace’s Wednesday morning assemblies, the community gains a broader worldview unattainable from inside the walls of a classroom. Whether these assemblies are entertaining or educational, the community gains a new perspective on different cultures, ideas and the world.

Planned and organized by Head of Upper School Mike Gannon, the assembly calendar for the entire school year is booked solid. Along with certain required assemblies, including the dean of students’ presentation of the honor code and other various award ceremonies, teachers can approach Mr. Gannon and suggest their own ideas for assemblies. “More often than not we have more people who want assemblies than we have time to fill,” said Mr. Gannon. “I have to make a bit of a judgment call on what it is and where it fits.”

Often, Pace’s leadership addresses topics that are relevant and significant. On account of past events, Pace has hosted several mental health speakers, addressing common problems and solutions. Usually led by upper school counselor Sara Eden or sponsored by Pace’s Student Advisory Board, these assemblies are designed to raise awareness of student issues and how to cope with them.

On Oct. 19, SAB arranged for Happy Tails, a pet therapy organization, to visit Pace. After teaching the community how pets provide physical, social and emotional support for all ages, Happy Tails brought dogs for students to pet during the lunch period. 

“Issues of diversity are always a priority for us,” said Mr. Gannon. The Pace community has thus engaged in a variety of diversity and inclusion assemblies, including digital content producer Omar López Thismón’s story of being Puerto Rican and growing up in the United States, a celebration of Diwali with Bollywood dancing and traditional Indian foods, as well as Herschel Greenblat’s Holocaust survival story. These assemblies are intended for the student body to gain a deeper understanding of other cultures as well as to foster empathy. “It was really interesting and meaningful to hear a first-hand account from someone who experienced all the horrors of the Holocaust,” said sophomore Emily Butler.

Isdell Center for Global Leadership Director Trish Anderson also requests time for assemblies to deepen students’ understanding of the ICGL theme for the year. Through videos and other introductions, Ms. Anderson and the ICGL scholars worked hard to prepare the community for Jeff Goodell’s energy conservation assembly on Sept. 24. “I enjoyed Jeff Goodell’s presentation because he taught us about current world problems and how we can fix them,” said freshman Meghna Singha.

While speakers like Mr. Goodell discuss crucial issues in our society, engaging the whole student body is sometimes a challenge. “It’s very hard for any single speaker to make a tremendous impact on the majority of students, all of whom are coming in tired at eight in the morning, with all their tests and quizzes,” said Ms. Anderson. “Unless students feel this motivation to learn, they can easily sit through assembly and tune it out.”

To avoid this, Ms. Anderson suggests the forming of a committee composed of program leaders, certain faculty members and some students interested in student programming to help curate the assembly schedule. This way, only assemblies that truly interest the students can be scheduled rather than ineffective ones.

Despite the diverse, informative and entertaining variety of assemblies, Mr. Gannon believes that academics trump all else once students arrive to school. “I’m a traditionalist in that I think that eight to three is why we’re at school,” he said. “To my mind, Algebra II, U.S. history, and chemistry are the most important things we do, way more important than anything else. The external stuff is great, but we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that chemistry matters more.” Other authority figures at Pace think differently, however. “There’s a healthy balance among our leadership around that,” said Mr. Gannon. “We take a team approach to most things we do here.”