Diversity: Who Is Here, Who We Are Together

May 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm Leave a comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

It is time….to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. ~Maya Angelou

A few weeks ago, I sat in the sunshine on the porch and met with a prospective parent.  Her son is going into fourth grade and has already finished the “admissions” process here.  After his second visit, he had told his parents that kids at our school get to be themselves.  And she shared with me that she experienced the exact same feeling during the Circle and math group she observed yesterday morning.  What does that mean “get to be themselves”?  That each child is seen and understood for who he is, for who she can be.  That children get the opportunity to know and love themselves because they feel known and loved in all their uniqueness.  This is the essence of our school.

The weekend before, the Parent Group’s Diversity Committee had its fourth meeting of the year.  We discussed how this experience of being seen is what makes Randolph School such a wonderful community.  And we also talked about how what children see around them matters, too.  Each one of us is different from every other human being, and, at the same time, we share experiences that connect us.  Children come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, religious experiences, family structures.  They have different learning styles, interests and passions, strengths and challenges.  Children need to actually see their experiences and identities reflected in the faces, environment, and curriculum around them.  That helps us feel known and understood, too.

Diversity can sometimes be a buzzword that schools use to describe who is in the community.  But diversity includes both who is here and who we are together.  It also relates to the ideas and topics we study and investigate, the books we read, the poems we hear, the songs we sing.  It is embedded in one important aspect of the mission of the school – “to foster the development of the school community and its connection to the wider world.”  We need to work hard to improve diversity at Randolph in all its forms.  The Diversity Committee’s efforts are helping us strengthen our commitment and come up with practical approaches, as well.  For example, a recent anonymous donation is making it possible for the school to offer four weeks of summer camp scholarships to children of color with financial need.  This initiative and others will make us a stronger community.

We still live in an unjust world where people are treated differently or even oppressed based on the color of their skin, their religion, their gender, their class, their sexual orientation, their physical ability, and so much more.  We have an ethical responsibility as a school educating children.  In fact, there is a strong history and tradition of social justice work in progressive schools.  Dialogue matters.  Everyone’s voice and experience matters.  We want our children to not only be able to live in a multicultural society, but to actually work to change it for the better, to make our world more humane and more just for everyone.  We want them to be able to connect with, and most importantly, to value and respect the people they encounter in their lives, those who might be similar to them and those who are so very different.  There is something we can appreciate and learn from every individual child, teacher, parent, and friend, especially when we honor all of who she is and all of who he can be.  Especially when we feel accepted and loved.

By the way, our faculty has been discussing diversity at our school and has read some thought-provoking articles.  Check them out…

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program in 2008. For the past 15 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has posted on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: dialogue, diversity, equity, families, teaching tolerance.

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