Longmeadow Students Participate in a Social Justice Workshop

Ms. Kayla Werlin, in December 2019, with the choral group the Accidentals at retreat at Nine Mountain in Plainfield, MA. MS. WERLIN

A hundred different faces in little boxes popped up on Ms. Kayla Werlin’s screen as she opened her computer. All of the faces, which included some of Longmeadow High School’s own students, were there to advocate for social justice in their communities and the world. Although the pandemic shut down many events, the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Social Justice Workshop was not one of them. On October 15th and 24th, music students across Massachusetts met virtually to spread awareness of the social injustices which exist today. To Daly Therrien, a junior at LHS who participated, social justice is all about “treating everyone the same… and if they’re not, trying to make it so everyone is.”

As Head of the Music Department at LHS, Mrs. Kayla Werlin’s job goes far beyond chorus. As a member of the ACDA, she collaborated with her colleague, Anthony Trecek-King, who is a teacher at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, to get her and her students involved in the workshop. Aiden Rajczewski, a participant in the workshop from LHS, says about his teacher: “She really genuinely cares about her students… and you can really see what she does, she does with intent and purpose.” Seeing her kids getting involved in social issues makes Ms. Werlin proud and optimistic for the future: “Students are at the perfect age to engage in conversation and share what they believe is important. In many ways, over the past few months the students have been our leaders.” 

The students involved in this workshop discussed topics ranging from racial equality and religious toleration to LGBTQ+ rights. To Aiden, social justice is all about creating a safe space for everyone so they can feel accepted. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, social justice is something that is very personal to him. He states that he took part in the workshop because “I’ve had to face issues with discrimination before and I don’t want anybody to have to face something like that.” Another participant, LHS freshman Morgan Erinna, feels personally connected to social justice through her race: “Social justice is always really important to me as a person, especially being a black, African American female; especially in a town like this where a lot of people don’t look like me.” 

The zoom meeting provided a unique environment for students to discuss their issues, and Aiden says, “I would just see the chat and I would just see people writing paragraphs about things that I couldn’t even begin to understand…I was like wow, people truly care about this and it was really interesting to see that.” The workshop provided the perfect space for the students to begin having these tough conversations which, Ms. Werlin acknowledges, can be scary to talk about as a kid. To Ms. Werlin, social justice is “one of the most important ways that we can change the world in a positive way.” Relating social justice to chorus, Ms. Werlin states that music is one of the best ways students can learn about other cultures. Similarly, Daly says, “I think that for singing at least I can help when we sing songs that have a bit more meaning and show people that we have to appreciate it…like cultural appropriation versus appreciation.”

From this workshop, the students learned that education is key. Aiden has taken away that “even though people might not have the same views, it’s important to educate each other and it’s okay to step away from a discussion if it’s not going in a certain way.” Ms. Werlin and her students agree that there have been major changes made to our country in the past few months through speaking up, even when it’s uncomfortable. They hope to continue educating people about social justice, and Morgan says, “I think that in Longmeadow people need to understand that what you say won’t fall upon deaf ears…what you have to say is not being suppressed. Now people’s thoughts and voices are being heard and lifted.”

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Roxanne Oh '23

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