A Two Way Promise

It has been so exciting to watch our Makom South Philly kiddos paint our Brit Mural. A brit is a two-way promise between learners and instructors as well as between the learners and each other. Learners have taken ownership of this project coming up with a list of expectations that are as unique and caring as the kiddos themselves. 

In the beginning of the year, we started with an extensive brainstorming list. I prompted the students with the questions: “What promises do we want to make to each other?” and “What promises would help Makom be fun and safe for all of us?” 

When we were considering what promises were important enough to secure their own space in our brit, learners considered their own needs. Many of our ideas were rooted in kindness. Although kindness sits at the heart of our brit, kiddos still felt it was important to spell out what kindness looks like at Makom. 

One day during snacktime learning, we were discussing the earth and climate change. 

A learner announced, “We should add something about being kind to the earth to our brit!” 

“Wonderful idea, how are we kind to the earth at Makom?” I asked.

“We use both sides of the paper, and we use cardboard and other things in our art, they replied.” 

“It sounds like you noticed that not only do we recycle paper, but we also upcycle other materials, I responded.” 

After discussing the nuances between recycling and upcycling, we wordsmithed another line of our brit: “Be kind to the earth by finding ways to recycle/upcycle.”

We brainstormed tools that we might employ to quell our impulses when they are disruptive. “Sometimes I just want to scream, can we add scream whenever we want?” one learner asked, “I get that! Why do you think screaming whenever we want might not work for everyone?” I answered.

“That would make it hard to hear when we are learning,” another kiddo chimed in.

A learner from Nitzanim piped up with a solution, “What about if it says: yell aleph as loud as you want!” The letter aleph is silent, and the kids continue to think this is hilarious.

Learners were so thoughtful as they applied what they already knew and what we have learned together to our brit. 

For 12 weeks, we began snacktime learning with a reflection on our brainstorm list and considered what else we might want to add. When tough moments came up, we asked the learners what we could include in the brit to support them. One afternoon two kiddos were struggling with personal space, the disagreement was rooted in miscommunication. 

“What would help you feel less crowded?” I asked one of the learners.

“I need space.” they intuitively replied.

“I wonder if our other friend knew that,” I offered. 

“What would help you get the space you need?” I continued. 

Together we came up with the idea of asking friends before we touch their bodies and unpacked the concept of consent. 

“If you ask and they say nothing, is it okay to touch their body?” I asked. 

“No!” many students called out in unison. 

“I think we should add ‘no means no.’” another kiddo shared. 

After our list was overflowing with rich ideas, we discussed what we might want to remove to make our list as clear and concise as possible highlighting the most essential concepts. While we considered what was most important, kiddos took turns voting with stickers. As I read our final list aloud, learners looked at each other beaming with pride, and nodded agreeably. 

Learners continued to take ownership of the mural as we moved into the painting stage. Once we were settled into our new location on S. Juniper Street, we were so excited to paint our brit on the wall. Each student chose one line they especially connected to and wrote it in their own handwriting before coloring in the letters. When the first student completed coloring in her line, we came together and recited the Shehecheyanu over her accomplishment to celebrate the first of many brit lines beautifully painted on our wall. 

Our final brit emphasizes the kindness evident in all our learners and serves as a reminder of how to be in community with each other. 

  • Be kind.
    • Make sure that everyone has what they need.
    • Call people what they want to be called. 
    • Be kind to the earth by finding ways to recycle/upcycle. 
    • Keep our masks on always unless we are eating or drinking. 
    • Only have one voice speak at a time unless we are singing or making noise as a whole group and use the talking stick. 
    • Look for ways to help each other.
    • Show our love by asking friends before we touch their bodies.
  • Enjoy our time and have fun. 
  • Be inclusive to everyone. 
  • Be honest and believe each other. 
  • Make sure we are safe. 
  • Yell Alef whenever you want.
  • No means no. 

Although we have come to an agreement for now about what our promises will be, the brit is a working document. Kiddos know they are always welcome to bring up a new idea as we build community together and learn what we need. 

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