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2011 Best Practices Forum: Diversity

January 20, 2011 @ 8:45 am - 11:30 am

The highlight of the program was a panel presentation which included representatives from The Georgetown Day School, The Norwood School and the Washington Episcopal School. Following the panel presentation, a Questions and Answers session was offered so that participants could learn more about each school’s individual programs. In addition, the Parents Council of Washington has published an EBinder of submissions on Diversity practices and programs from our PCW member schools.

Best Practices on Diversity

E-Binder of Diversity Practices (Download MS Word Doc)

Introduction

Parents Council of Washington Board Member, Joan Levy, welcomed all of the participants to the “Best Practices – Diversity Practices In Our Schools” program.  As chair of the event, she thanked The Washington Episcopal School for hosting the Best Practices program and thanked all of our panel members for their participation in this important session for our member schools.  Nancy Wright, WES Middle School Division Director, also welcomed all of the attendees and highlighted the growth of The Washington Episcopal School as it >marks its upcoming 25th anniversary.

The opening session of the Best Practices Program was a panel presentation on the topic of Diversity in our schools.  Three PCW member schools, The Georgetown Day School, The Norwood School and the host school, The Washington Episcopal School, gave overviews on their diversity programs and activities in their schools.  Joan Levy introduced each of the panel members and thanked them for their commitment to promoting diversity in our school communities.  The panel members included Elizabeth Denivi and Mariama Richards, the Diversity Co-Directors at Georgetown Day School, Joseph Conrad, Co-Chair of the Students of Color Committee, Quanti Davis, Director of Multicultural and Ethical Education and Nicole Mitchell, Board of Trustee Member from The Norwood School and Jackie Thorton, Teacher and Faculty Diversity Committee Member, Maurice and Beverly Ross, Co-Chairs of the Parent Diversity Initiative and Kristie Postorino, School Counselor and Faculty Diversity Committee Chair from the Washington Episcopal School.  Following the panel presentation, a Questions and Answers session was offered so that participants could learn more about each school’s individual programs.  In addition, Joan Levy announced that all of participants would receive an EBinder which will include Diversity submissions from our PCW member schools.

Georgetown Day School Presentation

Diversity is quantitative and can be measured.  Multiculturalism is qualitative; it is the quality of life that diversity brings to a school.  There is a focus on the issue of equity – with the meaning that equity “gives everyone the same thing.”  Equity asks us to give our school community members what they need to be truly successful.  The actual scope of diversity can be discussed as the “Big Eight,” which include ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation and socio-economic status/class.   When GDS was founded in 1945, it was the first integrated independent school in the Washington, D.C. area.  That commitment to diversity continues to be an integral part of the school’s mission.  It contributes to academic excellence, effective leadership, culturally responsive teaching and learning, engaged and empowered students and faculty, invested families, more productive work environment, strong college admissions and overall accountability.  A diverse student body is clearly a resource and a necessary condition for engagement with diverse peers and for the attainment of academic goals.

The Georgetown Day School Mission Statement:

“Georgetown Day School honors the integrity and worth of each individual within a diverse school community.  GDS is dedicated to providing a supportive educational atmosphere in which teachers challenge the intellectual, creative, and physical abilities of our students and foster strength of character and concern for others.

From the earliest grades, we encourage our students to wonder, to inquire, and to be self-reliant, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning.” “Georgetown Day School honors the integrity and worth of each individual within a diverse school community.  GDS is dedicated to providing a supportive educational atmosphere in which teachers challenge the intellectual, creative, and physical abilities of our students and foster strength of character and concern for others. From the earliest grades, we encourage our students to wonder, to inquire, and to be self-reliant, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning.”

The current enrollment at GDS is 1060 students, of which 38% of the student body is represented by students of color.  The school emphasizes service learning programs and it supports a large number of student clubs at the middle school and upper school/high school levels.  In addition, the GDS Diversity Program Director sponsors an annual diversity retreat, administers the Students of Color mentoring program, organizes diversity/race relations dialogue for students and staff, advises open forum diversity discussions on controversial issues, coordinates annual celebrations and assemblies in all divisions, attends local and national conferences, assists student affinity groups, helps coordinate the 9th grade seminar, supports service learning curriculum and community service programs, informally counsels students on personal and academic issues, serves as a member of the Student Support Team at the high school and teaches classes in all three divisions.  The GDS community celebrates various festivals throughout the school year to promote shared values.  These include: Thanksgiving/Harvest – Gratitude, Christmas-Peace, Martin Luther King Jr. – Equality, Seder – Freedom, Gay Pride/Free to Be Me – Respect.

The Georgetown Day School’s administration, faculty and staff also reflect a diverse school community.  Of the total staff (both teaching and non-teaching positions) of 228 members, 42% of the Administration is of color, 48% of the staff is of color and 32% of the teachers are of color.  Faculty and Staff are continually involved in the on-going facilitation of faculty discussions in all three divisions.  This includes constant coordination with Principals, department heads, and grade level Deans to assess and improve GDS’s efforts to meet the needs of all of the students, as well as annual facilitation of a diversity orientation for all new faculty and staff.  GDS strives to develop multicultural curricula in all disciplines.  In addition, GDS participates in the S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) professional development program, conducts affinity group meetings for staff of color and gay/lesbian staff and coordinates the self-evaluation process for all teachers in grades pre-K through 12.  Finally, the two full-time Co-Directors of the GDS Diversity Program serve as members of the senior administrative team.

The parents of the Georgetown Day School have an integral role in the diversity program at the school, as the Administration works hard to empower parents to be more involved in the GDS community and to counsel parents as needed on diversity issues at the school.  GDS offers various support groups for parents, including Parents of Students of Color Group, Parent Gay Straight Alliance, and the Parent Service Association.  Other initiatives include assisting parents with understanding informal school networks, promoting the Board Diversity Committee, administering the Parent Education Series and providing mission-based training for parent volunteers.

In summary the panel members asked, “How does an institution ensure the success of its diversity efforts?”  The answer is through leadership, resources, goals, self-monitoring and accountability.

The Norwood School Presentation

The goal of the Diversity Program at the Norwood School is for all to work together to grow and build strong diversity through inclusive practices and programs throughout grades K through 8.  There are five key partnerships needed to meet this goal – students and student leaders, teachers, parents and the Parents Association, school leadership and the Board of Trustees.  The role that all partners play begins with the following: Trust, Shared Vision and Purpose, Leadership and Accountability, Measurable Goals and Objectives, Ongoing Dialogue and Conversation, and Action.

When Norwood was founded it was originally affiliated with the Episcopal Church.  Today, the school holds a daily chapel service which is nondenominational.  Norwood strives to foster racial and ethnic diversity, socioeconomic diversity and religious diversity throughout its school community.  The school’s traditional Christmas pageant will be discontinued after this year.  Six years ago, the school funded the full-time Director of Multicultural and Ethical Education position.  Norwood offers various diversity programs and curriculum including the MOSAIC, SEEDlings, GLOW and SUCCEED, Chapel, Multicultural Festival, Administrative Team and Principals Group Participant, Life Skills, and Curriculum.

Norwood’s Parents of Students of Color Committee.

Purpose:

To further build a community at Norwood that understands and acts on issues of special concern to students of color and institute plans and programs to help them achieve the highest level of personal and academic success.

Objectives:

1. Tobuildwithin the school a stronger parent communitythat seeks to strengthen social, emotional, academicand financial support(when necessary) for students of color.

2. To help create and implement, with the school’s assistance, mentoring and support programsfor students of color.

3. To help build a more inclusive parent networkschool-wide.

4. To advise the schoolAdministration and Parents Association on issues related to students of colorand their families.

5. To act as a service-driven committee that actively seeks input from families and creates programs and initiativesto meet their varying needs.

6. To work with Norwood leadership to actively seek out faculty of color candidateswho the school could recruit.

7. To assist the Multicultural Officein the development of more inclusive and diverse school displays, chapels and in- and out-of-the-classroom programs.

8. To build an extended network among parents of color at other area independent schoolsto learn from each other and share ideas.

Norwood’s Parents Association Vice President for Equity and Diversity

Purpose:

1. Serves on the Parents Association Executive Committee

2. Liaison to the Norwood Board Diversity Committee

3. Works to ensure that all PA programs fully consider equity and diversity-related concerns.

4. Works with all members of the School’s community to promote, advocate and build supportfor programs, policies and institutional practices that are fair, equitable and inclusive.

5. Encourages and find ways to help parents be more involved in the Norwood community.

6. Works with Norwood’s Multicultural & Ethical Education Officein meeting its goals.

Board Diversity Committee

Purpose:

1. Norwood’s Board of Trustees Diversity Committee helps guide efforts to ensure that diversity is integrated into the school’s admissions policy, financial assistance policy, hiring and personnel policies, curriculum and culture.

2. The committee’s work is consistent with the school’s mission and essential in preparing all Norwood students for academic excellence and longer-term success in an increasingly global society.

Objectives: plays a strategic role that helps the school:

1. Assess school culture and address issues of equity and justice in pedagogy,

assessment, curriculum, programs, admissions and hiring.

2. Advocate for and promote diverse candidates to serve on its Board of Trustees.

3. Offer ongoing diversity education for the Board of Trustees, as well as Norwood’s faculty, staff, student and parent bodies.

4. Increase and retain faculty, staff and administrators of color.

5. Recruit and retain a diverse student body.

6. Define and bring forward best practices in multicultural and ethical education.

7. Support the Parents Association, Parents of Students of Color Committee and other groups and programs in the school for both students and parents.

Strategic Role:

1. Champions a forward looking, strategic approach to diversity:

2. Looks 5-15 years out, decides what Norwood wants to look like or will probably look like in terms of student/family/faculty population.

3. Decides if Norwood is currently equipped to sustain that kind of school and, if not, determine what it will take.

4. Decides how the Board Diversity Committee can help enact or recommend change.

Next Steps – Moving from Action to Strategic Action – 2011 Climate Assessment

1. Informs the school about different aspects of diversity.

2. Helps Norwood better understand what it means to be inclusive and equitable and how it can build a more inclusive environment at the school.

3. Helps the school understand the experiences of students, faculty and parents and how experiences differ.

4. Identifies strengths and weaknesses in its diversity initiatives and develop a comprehensive action plan

5. Helps Norwood faculty address issues that arise in the classroom and on campus.

6. Identifies whether or not existing traditions are aligned with stated values.

7. Provides baseline data and a survey instrument that can be replicated to regularly measure progress toward goals.

8. Helps Norwood better understand how it is doing in the areas of diversity and inclusion in comparison to other independent schools and among opinion leaders.

Why conduct a Climate Assessment? “Can’t know what we don’t ask, Can’t measure without baseline, Hard to prioritize without data, Harder to improve without a plan.”  Qualitative and Quantitative research is vital to the success of the program as it reaches out to parents, faculty and staff, the Board of Trustees and the student body.  “Inclusive Practices Makes Good Business Sense – through Recruitment and Retention, Annual Giving, Alumnae Relations and Planned Giving.”

Inclusive Practices and Teaching are Good for All Children:

1. Creates enriched discussions leading to better understanding of diverse views.

2. Teaches children how to work with people from varying races and ethnic groups.

3. Prepares all children to function more effectively in the interracial colleges, workplaces and communities of today.

4. Breaks down stereotypes/reduces prejudices/builds acceptance.

5. Directly linked to academic success.

The Washington Episcopal School Presentation

The panel members from the Washington Episcopal School demonstrated a group activity called “Stand Up” and asked those in attendance the following questions:

Stand Up if:

You are a parent at an Independent School

If you live in Maryland, Virginia or Washington, D.C.

If you were born in another country

If you speak more than two languages

If you practice a religion other than Christianity

If there are people of more than one race in your family

If you have ever felt underestimated by the way you look

If you have ever felt stereotyped

If you have ever heard “that is so gay” in a derogatory way

If you talked with your kids about race before first grade

If you know someone who feels they need to be someone else in order to get along at school

If you have a job or volunteer opportunity that breaks the gender stereotype

If you have ever been pre-judged by the size of your home

If you have ever felt misunderstood when talking about diversity

The Washington Episcopal School highlights its diversity message on their website as the first part of the contract with the school.  Episcopal traditions welcome all.  The school community celebrates the uniqueness of every individual.  It aims to educate the whole child to allow the student to become a fully engaged 21st century citizen.  The 292 member student body is multiracial and culturally diverse.

The Diversity Statement of the Washington Episcopal School has three important aspects: Social Justice, Tolerance, and Strive to Challenge Prejudice, Intolerance, Racism and Oppression.  They believe that “It is essential to educate the whole child.”  WES offers detailed information on their website that lists multicultural literature for each of the grades, as well as various chapel topics, field trips, class-sponsored events, etc.  Diversity needs to be part of the everyday curriculum of the school, including the arts program.  The students at WES created Mayan figures, Japanese scrolls, African mask, Greek urns, etc. in arts class to learn more about other cultures.

WES promotes various multicultural activities including:

1. In the 4th grade the students study other countries and cook a full meal from the selected countries.

2. In the 5th grade there is a study trip to Civil War sites of Antietam and Harpers Ferry.

3. In the 6th grade there are trips to the desert Southwest to study the Native American culture.

4. In the 7th grade students travel to Italy to study the Italian history and culture.

5. In the 8th grade students travel to either France or Spain to study past and present culture.

The majority of the costs associated with these programs are included in the overall school tuition and financial assistance is available for any family with demonstrated need.  WES also participates in an exchange program for students with schools in France and Granada, Spain.  In addition, WES holds cultural assemblies each Friday where they have featured African dancers, Arabic music and culture, Deaf Dance Theatre, Chinese acrobats, etc. to engage the students in the arts of other cultures.  The school also sponsors a Foreign Language Night and Pot-Luck Dinners by continents.  Chapel at WES reflects all faiths and every Friday there is a student assembly which highlights various topics and activities that are important to the school community.

The school supports a Parent Book Club, in which they recently read and discussed NutureShock, New Thinking about Children and Pink Brain/Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gapes – and What We Can Do About It.  There is also an 8th grade Book Club where they have explored various titles that address ethnic and cultural differences.  WES has presented various speakers to address diversity including a holocaust survivor, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, President, University of Maryland Baltimore Campus and Robert Goodwin, Immediate Past President and CEO of Points of Light Foundation.  Lastly, WES is an active participant in the DC Metro Diversity Advocates Association, Student Diversity Leadership Conference, and the Parents Council of Washington.

Questions and Answers Session
We are all here representing independent schools from a wealthy area. It is hard to raise kids in a wealthy area. What are schools doing to address economic diversity?

The Georgetown Day School Response:

On the issue of socioeconomic diversity, no one wants to be on either end.  They have conducted Social Class Questionnaires: how you grew up? This focuses on not simply the family income, because the socio portion is more important than the economic.  It is important to let people know that 1 in 5 students at GDS receives some form of financial help.  Also, these families are not all African American.  In summary, “It is OK to be working class and it is OK to be rich.”  GDS students attend a 9th grade mandatory seminar on socioeconomic status that encourages them to think critically.  The school also promotes these types of conversations in the mentoring groups.  Lastly, financial aid carries over to all aspects of the school, including field trips, tutoring. etc. – there are no add on costs.

The Norwood School Response:

It is more difficult to talk about socioeconomic differences in the Lower School.  The faculty is being encouraged to do more with the topic of diversity.  Families at Norwood come from various socioeconomic backgrounds, and the school encourages parent to parent conversations to share their own experiences at Norwood.  Financial aid is a “full-time” commitment and includes tutoring, musical instruction, field trips, testing, the 8th grade trip to NYC, etc.  There are no additional costs.

The Washington Episcopal School Response:

They do not have a lot of conversation about tuition assistance with the teachers.  It is not just students of color who receive financial aid.  One of the panelist remarked that the foreign exchange students who recently came to WES were shocked that African American students lived in nice homes and pay full tuition.  The school encourages students to feel good about having different life experiences.  They do not talk much about socioeconomic differences, but instead try to teach it through awareness and community service activities for the students.  School tuition is also inclusive of all aspects of a WES education and there are no extra charges.

Faculty has a strong part to play feeling comfortable with socioeconomic diversity, how do you deal with that?

When conversations come up about where are you going on vacation, one teacher in the audience said she was going to spend time with family, never really focused on where she was going.  We need to create an environment for students where they are comfortable talking about their differences.  Teachers are able to overhear many conversations among their students and can help guide them.

How are you addressing family differences?  Single parents, adoption, step-families, family diversity?

The Georgetown Day School Response:

There are many options for parent education at GDS.  The Lower School has a program “That’s a Family” to address different types of families.  There are projects as well to introduce this issue early with the students.  Middle School does an ancestor project, which does not need to be about “blood relatives” that starts these important conversations.

The Norwood School Response:

The faculty gives the teachers “permission” to have these conversations.  Administrators need to model for teachers.  Their admissions forms now list Parent 1 and Parent 2, thereby no longer assuming a traditional mother and father type of family.  These are just a few small steps to make the Norwood community more inclusive.  In addition, all Norwood students take a LifeSkills class as well that includes family composition.

The Washington Episcopal School Response:

The faculty and staff try to provide safe space for the students to have conversations about family composition.  They want each child to feel valued knowing that all students can contribute to the ongoing dialogue.  Teachers are encouraged to talk about these issues in their classrooms.

Conclusion

The Best Practices Program concluded with three Break-Out Discussions Sessions, for the Lower School, Middle School and Upper School.  Participants selected which discussion group to attend with Parents Council of Washington Board members serving as moderators.

Diversity in our Schools – Lower Schools Break-Out Discussion Session

The first topic of discussion in the Lower Schools Break-Out Session was ways by which schools can “level the playing field” including limited the amount of money students can bring on a field trip and school’s requiring that students wear school uniforms.  Some participants felt that requiring uniforms doesn’t always level the field as some children wear $100 shoes (such as Uggs boots) and other name brand accessories that can differentiate them from the children who cannot afford these items.

The group discussed their individual schools ongoing diversity programs.  Blessed Sacrament is looking to develop a diversity program.  The St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School now has a full-time staff member devoted to diversity issues.  Everyone felt that this level of commitment would trickle down and represent a real commitment on the part of the administration and school board to diversity.  The participants noted that having a designated person, whether volunteer or paid, is necessary in order to put action plans in place to promote diversity.  The WES representatives felt that as long as you can reach out to the “movers and shakers” in your school community to get involved in building and implementing a diversity program, you should not necessary focus on the number of people attending your meetings.  Start small with the “right people” (meaning the movers and shakers) to get the job done.

The group agreed that it is important not to get discouraged, and that it is important to work towards programs that are lasting and sustaining.  Burgundy Farm Country Day School was one of the very first (if not the first) independent schools in Virginia to embrace diversity – they did so from their founding in the 1940’s.  The Burgundy Farm Country Day School Representative proposed that we as Representatives of the Parents Council of Washington become more active in promoting diversity programs in our schools.  Most agreed that generation “Y” (the current young generation) are more at ease with diversity than previous generations.  They do not necessarily feel the same limitations that their parents or grandparents felt – whether regarding gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity.   It is not that it does not exist, but rather younger generations talk about it openly, whereas previous generations did not always discuss these issues at home.

Everyone agreed that schools need a coordinator, employee or committee dedicated to diversity issues.  Participants in the discussion group suggested that the PCW EBinder be sent to Heads of Schools and Board Chairs to further share this important information within our school communities.

Diversity in our Schools – Middle Schools Break-Out Discussion Session

One member of the group began the discussion with the question, “My school is in the process of re-writing their mission statement and we are struggling with trying to be all things to all people.  What are your thoughts?”

The group responded with various observations and suggestions including:

1. Many independent schools find it hard to be responsive to students with learning differences and special needs.

2. Some schools feel they have to be all things to all people in order to achieve academic excellence and teach the whole child.  We all benefit from diversity.

3.  Some believe the mission statement needs to be more about love of self, the more we explore our differences the more we come to realize that we are all the same.

4. Some schools feel they cannot be financially sustainable trying to be all things to all people.  They cannot afford to provide for all of the requests from students and families, including learning specialists, music teachers, athletics, etc.

5. It is great for schools to list the percentages they have of various race representations within their student body, but what does it really matter if they all divide up at lunch time and diversity is not really working.

6. Teachers need to work diversity into the curriculum.

7. Diversity will look different from school to school based on such factors as geography.

8. Even if you cannot achieve diversity with the student population, you still need to teach diversity and educate the students, as they will be going out into the diverse world.

9. Life Skills classes are very helpful for students.  Many parents are also interested in learning what their children are learning in these classes as well.

The Grace Episcopal School is a Christian school but their diversity mission embraces all religions.  Much of the diversity at Grace Episcopal comes from teaching the different ways we live, respect for others, and respect for differences.

Parent education may be more important than all the student focused classes, as it seems that children are much more accepting of diversity within their communities.

Community Service is also a great tool for teaching awareness to students.

Diversity in our Schools – Upper Schools Break-Out Discussion Session

Twenty-two participants representing 17 Upper Schools/High Schools joined the Upper Schools Break-Out Session.  The opening discussion was on the topic, “What diversity means to each of us at our schools; what have been our challenges and what has worked and has not?”  The consensus was that most of our schools have done a good job of opening their students’ eyes to diversity around the world.  Everyone agreed that the entire student body and the school gain from having diversity discussions, but that there can be roadblocks if a school does not have practices in place to address both the “socio” and the “economic” aspects of diversity within the school community.  Many agreed that it humanizes the experience to hear from different voices within your school community.

In some instances, it was felt that people are not as comfortable asking for changes in their schools if they are not from the same socioeconomic background.  It is very helpful when school Administrators give access to parents so that the parents feel welcome to share their ideas and beliefs.  Another recommendation for school Administrators is to host division level meetings with the Head to discuss diversity issues that extend beyond a specific grade level.

Many participants shared highlights of successful diversity programs in their schools.  Stone Ridge has a very progressive Upper School Diversity program.  The Washington International School has always been very accepting of students from other ethnicities and countries, as they have such a global representation within their student body.  Sidwell Friends School has a designated administrator who is the liaison with the faculty and the administration on diversity issues.  The Norwood School conducts monthly meetings with the parents of students of color.  Other schools believe that they need to improve their efforts regarding diversity practices and activities, such as initiating virtual exchange programs with students from schools in other countries.

Many of the participants believe that our children are very accepting of people of color but that more work can to be done for our students to gain a greater understanding and acceptance of students who face physical and mental challenges.

Details

Date:
January 20, 2011
Time:
8:45 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
,

Venue

Washington Episcopal School
5600 Little Falls Dr.
Bethesda, MD 20854 United States