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Spirited… 2016 in Review

Dear Friends and Supporters,

As in years past, we at SPIRIT SERIES have a great deal to be grateful for in this holiday season. The program updates included in our end-of-year newsletter — www.spiritseries.org/update — chronicle some of the progress we have made these past twelve months in advancing our mission: to prepare, empower, and inspire our children for lives as successful, civic-minded adults. Given recent events, both here and abroad, this annual appeal for your support has, in our view, never been more urgent or compelling…

At 6:15am on the day after the U.S. election we were awakened by a close friend who simply said: “Are you dressed yet? The world needs SPIRIT SERIES now more than ever!” He was not referring to the outcome of the presidential election so much as the forces of division, enmity, and demonization that have become the hallmark of our public discourse. Hate crimes have spiked since November 8th, as have documented reports of bullying on our K-12 campuses, and a menacing shadow side of the American psyche has surfaced for all to see. In the face of this polarization and vitriol, many have asked: “What do we tell our kids?”

We at SPIRIT SERIES have a simple answer. “We are all in this together!” Whether it be the wisdom of Socrates, Galileo, or the Buddha, the courage of Harriet Tubman, La Malinche, or Chief Sitting Bull, the heroes we celebrate are linked by a common thread — an indomitable spirit, strength to meet any challenge, and a devotion to something greater than ourselves. These stories share a promise and a goal — to call forth heroism, generosity, and higher purpose in us all…especially our children.

Beyond the data referenced elsewhere in this newsletter, listen to the words of those students who have recently completed the three-week SPIRIT SERIES experience: “I saw my courage.” says Raphael B. of South L.A. “When we were performing, I felt connected to something bigger than me!” Davina Y., a sixth grader in West L.A., concluded: “I learned I can accept other people’s beliefs, even if I strongly believe in my own.” And her fellow sixth grader Marley B. added “I learned to trust my classmates…and myself.”

Empathy…teamwork…positive core values…self-reflection…personal courage — these have been touchstones for our drama-based literacy and values program since its inception 16 years ago. In that time, many hundreds of educators, in partner schools across three states, have recognized the critical importance of these aims and methods, as have so many donors with their generous gifts. Rachel Whitehead, fifth grade teacher at Knowlton School in Berwick ME acknowledges the value of learning such vital skills and life lessons, particularly at this critical moment in our nation’s history: “I would like to thank the SPIRIT SERIES team from the bottom of my heart. You have given [our students] a once in a lifetime opportunity and changed their lives forever!”

Yes, our children are watching. But they will learn not so much from what we say as what we do. Can we somehow find common ground? In our view, we have no choice. Too much is at stake. We simply MUST answer the call, do the nearly impossible, just as the lives of Socrates or Harriet Tubman teach. We believe that SPIRIT SERIES offers a vision of what unites us — beyond identity politics, or narrow self-interest — a vision of the essential human spirit and what we are capable of if we all work together. Thank you for helping us spread this vision with your generous support!

Leslie & Richard Strauss

p.s. Our cohort — ages 9 to 14 — remains, in the words of Dr. Martin Seligman author of Learned Optimism, “…the most fruitful time to turn pessimistic children into optimistic ones.” With your gift, we can seize this last and best opportunity to re-inspire a generation of America’s kids!

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