According to the Drexel University School of Education, creating greater multicultural awareness and inclusion helps individual students succeed and thrive in an exponentially more diverse world.
At Schools for Children, we understand that faculty and staff are the drivers behind students not only becoming more aware of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) but learning to embrace, practice and celebrate equity in all of its forms. We have made diversity, equity and inclusion central to every aspect of the teaching-learning process in our schools and programs – both individually and collectively. Our Board of Trustees has made DEI a central tenet of its policy-level goals as well.
Making DEI a Central Institutional Focus
Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has included working with consultant Dr. Holly M. Carter to create a blueprint to incorporate measurable DEI goals, benchmarks and outcomes into the long-term plans for the organization and for each school and program. Additionally, our executive director, Dr. Paul Stein, created the Anti-Racism Task Force in 2021, sharing in an open letter to staff, “Anti-Racism is an ongoing process through which organizations need to identify and change policies, procedures and practices so that they serve to assure racial equity.”
Coupled with Program-Specific Activities and Approaches
Keeping with our philosophy that each school and program is tailored to the needs of the population it serves, DEI activities vary throughout the organization. For example, Dearborn Academy created a DEI Task Force during the 2020-21 school year following the worldwide racial awakening sparked by the George Floyd murder. Explains Maria Landaverde, Dearborn’s Spanish teacher and one of two diversity and inclusion facilitators, “Some staff people needed a safe place to discuss discrimination and find support surrounding the issue.”
The school’s administration was simultaneously working on a plan to incorporate more staff-wide input into DEI initiatives. And the combined effort led to the development of the DEI Task Force, which provides a collegial forum for discussions and information sharing on a host of issues, group training on relevant topics (e.g., dealing with microaggressions), a book club and more.
The Task Force also develops surveys to learn what staff members’ needs are and to assess the general climate around DEI issues. According to Maria, the DEI work at Dearborn has also led to programmatic changes. For example, when staff members create circles,* there is an increased focus on DEI. In one circle, students discussed the impact of bullying someone because of their identity. Similarly, the school has further expanded its long-time emphasis on cultural representation in the curriculum.
To make sure DEI is top of mind, Dearborn recruited two staff members as facilitators, Maria and, for the first part of the process, Hannah Sycks. “The work is not held by the facilitators,” explains Hannah. “We write it down on paper and make sure everything is organized and set to go. We make sure that the work that Dearborn is doing aligns with the work that we sought to do a few years ago.” Recently, high school teacher Wendy Forgie joined Maria as a cofacilitator of Dearborn’s DEI work.
Maria adds that the facilitators do research for and lead staff training, and this has already had tangible results. She gives the example of a staff person using skills developed from an anti-racism training to create a teachable moment from what could otherwise have been an escalating situation.
“The other successful part of doing this work,” she adds, “is that we are doing more with other languages, more translation. We’ve seen changes in the curriculum because of DEI. The curriculum reflects other cultures more.”
A Proud History
Our other schools and programs also have a proud history of working to address and end bias of all types. “We are a very diverse population of students in terms of culture and race,” states Alex Tsonas, Seaport Academy director. “I really appreciate that Schools for Children has made DEI front and center. It makes it a necessary part of the conversation. Because of this work, we are a better program for it. And we have these discussions all the time, because these are who our students are.”
Alex recounts a recent conversation with a student: “The other day, I was sitting down with a student who started talking about racial diversity within the school, within our staff and within their own life experience. While the staff is not very diverse – something we are working on – to a person we are willing to have these conversations with our students, and they know that. We are willing to put ourselves out there and have difficult conversations, not just about a student’s race but our race as well.
“We can have conversations without being culturally or racially defensive. That is very important for our students. We can hear what they have to say and validate what they have to say without putting any caveats or asterisks out there. The staff can say, ‘You’re right. This is your experience and you are 100% correct.’”
He adds, “Even though a conversation can be potentially racially charged it can be done in a way that is highly supportive so the student is heard and validated.”
Among Our Greatest Strengths
As SFC ExL Program Director Maridel Perdomo has said many times about her programs and Schools for Children as a whole, “We understand that a brighter future starts with teaching our students that everyone belongs.”
At Schools for Children, we want all students to see the value in our cultural differences and the importance of equity for all.
As Maridel has said many times, “Diversity is among our greatest strengths and both a resource to draw upon and a source of celebration.”
* Circles can be described as a different way of having a conversation. A facilitator offers some questions or topics to think about, and each student has the ability to share their thoughts with the use of a talking piece. The student with the talking piece knows that they will not be interrupted, as the rest of the members have the privilege of listening. Community circles increase engagement and attendance and support students in building meaningful friendships. (https://dearbornacademy.org/what-we-do/school-community/ under the Restorative Practices window)