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blog DNAYou might think of WMS as a small independent Montessori school. You might think that, because we end in sixth grade, our students don’t have access to the same breadth of knowledge of those schools that end in eighth or 12th grades. You might think we are only thinking of “little kid” concerns. You might be wrong.

Last week we have the pleasure of inviting alumni parent Anita Foeman to speak to the 9-12 students. Dr. Foeman is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at West Chester University. What brought her back to WMS 10 years after her daughter graduated is the work she is doing on the link between our DNA and an individual or family’s personal story. She has taken what we know about ourselves through family stories handed down to us by our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, their parents, and their parents’ parents and studied its veracity given the overlay of an individual’s DNA. What she has discovered is nothing short of fascinating.

A presentation on DNA and family narrative given to 9- to 12-year-olds? How can they understand her message? Why would they be interested in such a topic? This year, as their cultural focus (science and social studies), the 9-12 students have been studying the question, “What does it mean to be human?” They have learned about body systems, brains and yes, DNA. They now had the experience of learning how similar we truly are to each other…proven through DNA. Dr. Foeman shared her research with them, demonstrating that we may not be exactly who we think we are nor can we identify our origins by our appearance. When asked, the children shared their percentages stating, “I’m this percent Irish, this percent Italian, etc.” which Dr. Foeman said is a typical response when asking where our families are from. What she has learned through a few years of this study is that most of us are not who we think we are. We are all parts of the same genome. We may think that we descend from all European ancestry only to learn that we also have Asian, African or Native American ancestors.

The conversation went on for quite a while with students asking questions about human migration, DNA, study results, etc. In this hour they learned so much about what it means to be human and our connection to others. In the end, they left with more questions than answers. They left with a sense of wonder and curiosity about who they are, who came before them in their own family and in the world’s family. They left just as we like to leave all lessons at WMS – with curiosity, wonder and interest in learning more. Thank you Anita. And for those of you who were unable to hear her inspirational words, enjoy Anita Foeman’s TED talk.