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Dr. Gwendy Turnbull teaching Upper School class
by Anish Vedantham '25

Before the age of ten, Gwendy Turnbull had two radically different educational experiences.

At her first school, an international school in Singapore, she met classmates from around the globe, internalizing her multicultural surroundings as ‘normal.’ When she returned to Atlanta, however, she attended a homogenous private school. This perspective shift set her on a career determined to understand the troubling racial divide.

This summer, Dr. Turnbull is part of an elite cohort of teachers attending a program in Savannah, Georgia, on the Legacy of Early African Americans and the Gullah-Geechee People. The program is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Gwendy Turnbull collage of photos of her teaching her tenth grade English class

According to the NEH, the Gullah-Geechee “preserved more of their African traditions than other groups of enslaved Africans in the U.S.” Dr. Turnbull plans to use this program to understand their connections to the modern day.

"I want to know specific ways in which the Gullah-Geechee culture is embedded in American society, everything from indigo to hoppin’ john’s,” she says. “I am also interested in learning more about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the Gullah-Geechee influence on his remarkable life.”

At the program, she plans to study writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s work in the Lowcountry and her experience with the Gullah-Geechee People. She believes this experience will help her shape  Providence Day’s (PD) curriculum.

She says, “I hope to bring my research back to the PD tenth grade English classroom during our study of Their Eyes Were Watching God and the research project attached to the study of her ground-breaking, 20th-century novel.”

The program, which features presentations from experts and hands-on demonstrations, will allow Dr. Turnbull to understand and eventually teach the contributions of the Gullah-Geechee people to American history.

“Whose stories and culture we teach has a lasting impact on the students within those walls,” she says. “The NEH workshop will allow me to transport specifics of the Gullah-Geechee culture through the testimonies of ancestors, scholars, and heritage institutions and help students discover how this unique and influential culture plays a role in the complex American story.”

She imagines her knowledge working well with Providence Day’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course. She says, “The content of the workshop would fold neatly into the curriculum already in place.”

Dr. Turnbull is no stranger to teaching diverse perspectives in the classroom. Her first teaching job was in the small agricultural town of Camilla, Georgia. Given her outsider status, she initially struggled to get her students to trust her.

As she continued to engage with them in a student-centered approach, she not only gained a greater understanding of African American history but also became ingrained within the community.

Her dedication to uplifting minority voices in the classroom continues to this day. For Dr. Turnbull, the NEH program is a way to gain new perspectives and make connections with like-minded educators.

“Ultimately, I want all students to take note of the resilience, stories, and contributions of marginalized or non-mainstream cultures everywhere,” she says. “Just because a group is not represented in the curriculum does not diminish their value.”