Luzviminda “Lulu” Carpenter teaches Performance & Media Arts to all grades at SGS and has been a deeply loved member of our faculty for eight years. A media justice advocate, educator, and community organizer, Ms. Lulu also leads SGS’s Equity Team and oversees several student affinity groups. Learn more about Ms. Lulu, her SGS story, her passion for performance and media arts, and her teaching philosophy in the latest faculty profile.
Can you share a bit about yourself and your role at SGS?
I go by Lulu or Ms. Lulu here. I teach fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade performance and media arts. It's a department that I created that used to be called performance studies. I've been at SGS for a glorious amount of eight years. I'm also an eighth-grade advisor and affinity group leader, where I oversee BIPOC Student Alliance, and Black Girl Magic, a Black and African American Affinity group. I've led the following groups in the past; Asian Pacific Islander (API) Affinity, the Alphabet Affinity, a LGBTQ+ Affinity, and Mixed Chicks, which is a multi-racial affinity group. I also helped to establish the Trans Affinity and the Middle Eastern Affinity groups, as an ally. I’m proud of working with other people to establish or change those groups. Currently, I'm also the Equity Team Director.
What brought you to SGS?
I had never really thought about [working in] private schools, but I had a friend who was a poet and playwright named Anastasia Renee also known as Ms. A, who was faculty at SGS. When she was leaving [SGS], she called up various people in the community to ask them to apply to be a Performance Studies Teacher part-time. I was working at ROOTS Young Adult Shelter and doing contract work in my community. I was a producer of various radio shows. And I was exiting the sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking field. I was also involved in anti-violence and youth homelessness prevention work, and I was at a point in my career where I wanted to try something else.
After joining SGS, I remember participating in a Black caucus at a conference. Everybody in that room shared that if someone had not personally reached out to them and told them there was availability at an independent school, they wouldn’t have known to apply. It’s about people reaching out to each other—to community members—saying “there's opportunity here.” As the Equity Team Director, it stays in my mind: how do we continue to use those one-to-one connections?
Where does your passion for Performance and Media Arts come from?
Most of the things I've done—for the healing of myself and the healing of my communities—have involved thinking of art as transformational. When I started doing radio, it was during the low-power FM movement when people were talking a lot about access to media and technology. I learned late in life about media and technology, and I thought, “Whoa, what could I have done if I had learned that earlier?” That's where I developed as a person and developed my program.
Currently, I would say that I identify as a community media advocate. I want to provide resources, skills, and tools for my community. Sometimes, people think that advocacy is only about feeding people, or it's about doing work in the streets. There are many ways to advocate and many needs of the community that are not being met. The future is about technology and media; it's a social justice issue. That's why it's important.
What is your approach to teaching?
The messier the better. I'm much more at ease in teaching because I started as a community educator. My background is in grassroots education, specifically in social justice and anti-violence. That's how I learned to build curriculum. Ultimately, it's not the goal of teaching itself, but the process. All my curriculum is project based. It’s going through the process of giving and receiving feedback, and consensus building. It’s developing how students work as a team in communication and collaboration. As you develop as a teacher, your classroom and curriculum should transform, too, and that’s pretty cool.
When you think of how curriculum unfolds, you're constantly learning. As you get new ideas, it's never going to be the same. You need to continuously assess the curriculum, and it changes because the students change. With middle school, especially, you can see the change happening. You alter your curriculum to meet the needs of the youth. It's about being open to the students’ feedback, too. Production, where the eighth graders create films, is a great example. Every year I think, “Okay, this year, I got it. Everything's gonna be the same, it's gonna be easy.” And then the students challenge me!
I'm excited that my curriculum has a foundational piece, and the values are there. As students develop their hard skills, production helps them develop soft skills required to collaborate with a larger group. They're creating a film together, and not all of them need to do the hard skills of camera work or editing. But I know that they all can do it. There are people that are really excited about doing screenplays, others that are excited about props. They can take on a role of their choosing, but they also have the foundational pieces.
Any highlights from 8th Grade Production this year?
Every year, I'm completely surprised by what they try out [in Production]. They're really invested in the project because they know that they're in charge. They have all the skills necessary. They've done everything that you need to make a movie, and they just need to make choices and manage their time. When the eighth graders are finishing their projects, it’s like there's a little cheerleader in your belly. As a teacher, it makes me the proudest when they talk about the different angles and shots—you just give them those small skills and you're able to see how they grow. They're really proud that they can break down why they made the choices that they made, and they're able to implement all those skills. When they're on stage and people are asking them questions, they're able to articulate that they struggled and came out on the other side. They're able to talk about their techniques. That's what's exciting for me. Their families love that they're able to explain their thinking. That's a big thing.
What aspects of SGS are important to highlight?
I've been doing community work for a long time. There's the individual, there's the collective, and the question of how to grow both simultaneously. School is an incubator to practice the things that are harder to do in real life but in a safe environment. Whether it's to advocate for yourself in a math class, or for your rights and your body, those things are hard. We try to start embodying those concepts in a safer incubator so that when you're faced in the real world with something that's hard, your body remembers that safe place and how to react. Hopefully, this incubator helps their mind and their body remember how they felt and reacted during hard moments in life. Hopefully, we're a pebble on their path to wherever they decide to go that's right for them.
Now that I've been here for eight years, it's great to have a front row seat to the future of our students, of these amazing people. Whatever they decide to do, they have values to pass on to their families, their communities, and their work environments. This is what people call the “secret sauce”: sustaining your values, no matter what location you're in, and honoring the mistakes you make so you can do something better in the future. That can be hard to explain to other people, but I think that's the most important thing.
What inspires you about your students?
What inspires me is that oftentimes as you teach youth advocacy skills, they will practice on you. They're doing exactly what we said that we want them to do. They practice using discernment: are we advocating for ourselves, others, the whole school, or the whole community? Another thing I love about students is they just make me happy. A student can give me a post it note with a little drawing on it and it makes my day. Students are magical if someone listens to them. When I was younger, I had a vivid imagination, but no one was listening to me. If you ask the right questions, you can get a whole new perspective and see the world in a different way. They're at a time when they're told to be quiet more often than not. They're very observant and they have critical thinking skills. If you give them the right tools, they can analyze a situation in a different way. Every day is a new day with an opportunity to transform and change.
What is unique about teaching at SGS?
Middle school is the time when people can transition to shame or cave in on themselves before they enter high school. Instead, students bloom here. They'll have discussions about periods without building shame. I remember in middle school there would be period jokes and others would try to make you feel ashamed. In our community, the conversation takes place in a different way. I would hope that would happen in a more traditionally mixed-gender school environment. It's a different focus when we can center and meet the needs that are often not met in society.
We're teaching students to create safety for themselves and their communities. That's a different focus. We’re redefining what safety means, what bodily autonomy means. And I think that is what's unique. When I look amongst my students, I don't see everybody dressed alike. Students can express their gender and who they are in different ways, whether it's their hair, the way they style their clothes, the way that they give voice to their thoughts—it's honored.