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How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Are Prioritized in Our Programs

 

by Liz Paige, Director of Ethics and Community Initiatives

 

Our School’s mission, values, and diversity, equity, and inclusion statements guide our curricula and program development. The McGillis School Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and staff, and students are thoughtfully engaged in grade-appropriate conversations and studies. Our goal is to provide the space to have challenging conversations about identities, bias, systemic racism, and how to be agents of change in our local community and beyond. We invite our parents to learn with us through our Parent Association and as partners in their children's studies.

 

From the histories and narratives studied in our Language Arts, Humanities, and Ethics programs, to the displays in our hallways and books in our Library, to Shabbat discussions and holiday celebrations, we work to ensure that all of our students see themselves in our programs and have a window into the lived experiences of those unlike themselves.

 

In the 2018/2019 academic year, The McGillis School undertook the Assessment of Inclusion and Multiculturalism (AIM) self-study offered through the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Through surveys of our constituents, as well as hosting focus groups, we created recommendations to improve our program and strengthen our community. These priorities included more professional development for our Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, and staff. 

 

Building on these recommendations from the AIM self-study, in the 2019/2020 school year, our Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee led six professional development sessions, including one with DEI consultant Alison Park. Each of these sessions provided our teachers and staff with the opportunity to reflect on their own privileges, the lens through which they see and understand the world, and how one’s identity can influence their teaching and understanding of students.

 

Though teaching and learning during a global pandemic created challenges, it created an opportunity to truly focus on our institution’s curricular priorities. In 2020/2021 we expanded our Ethics program into the Middle School creating the opportunity for all students, K-8, to benefit from two new anti-racism curricula: The Anti-Defamation League’s K-12 Anti-Bias Building Blocks/Empowering Students, Challenging Bias curriculum and the Pollyanna Racial Literacy K-8 curriculum. Both curricula support students engaging in conversations about bias, privilege, bullying, discrimination, systemic racism, and being upstanders and advocates for social justice.

 

In January 2021, we hosted our first all-school author study, focusing on the works by Carole Boston Weatherford. An author of over 55 children’s books, Ms. Weatherford has written extensively about black history and racism in the United States. Ms. Weatherford and her son, Jeffery Boston Weatherford, an illustrator, artist and activist, lead book talks and writing sessions with our students in February.

 

In January, our faculty and staff began reading and discussing as a teaching community The New York Times Bestseller, So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Led by our Faculty DEI Committee, the faculty are engaged in nuanced conversations about how to address and teach about racism in our classrooms and with students of all ages of diverse backgrounds.

 

In March 2021, ten of our Middle School students attended the virtual Northwest Association of Independent Schools’ (NWAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Retreat. With 300 of their peers from 39 other independent schools in our region, students met in affinity groups and learned from artists who work for social justice through their art. This was the first time our students participated in this bi-annual conference and we are looking forward to the next retreat in 2023.

 

Our DEI work -- in the classroom with students and behind the scenes -- helps us to realize our purpose to create individuals committed and able to repair the world.

 

Click here to learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at McGillis.