Diversity @ Miquon

By Kristin Sanderson

Many of you will recall the diversity survey that was distributed to parents in the late spring of 2016. What you may or may not know, however, is since that time the Diversity, Equity, and Action (DEA) Committee–comprising staff, board members, and parents–has been hard at work charting an overall program strategy for diversity work at Miquon.

A group originally convened by the Board of Directors in 2015, the DEA was initially charged with crafting a diversity statement for the school. Through their work, the members discovered that a larger overall plan was needed to formalize something we already practice and inherently know to be true: At Miquon, we approach all things through an anti-bias, antiracist lens–our curriculum, our programming, and our interactions with each other and the larger community.

According to Lisa Pomerantz, chair of the committee, “we are committed to understand, learn, improve, confront, question, and challenge stereotypes–willing to feel discomfort, unease, and push our limits safely as we grow and explore.”

This stance isn’t surprising. In fact, 92% of the diversity survey respondents agreed that that Miquon’s classrooms encourage learners to understand, appreciate, and reflect people of diverse identities and backgrounds. And yet, there is still work to be done. The DEA has started with an analysis of the survey results to advise and inform the work of the Board of Directors, including implementing an ongoing effort to recruit board members of color. The group also advises the board generally, explains Rossana Zapf, Language Arts Coordinator at Miquon. “We are making recommendations. There is a strong commitment school-wide that diversity, equity, and action undergird the learning, program, and the decisions we make as a community.”

The survey feedback also generated an increased focus on the support, education, and tools available to the staff. Activities like an active partnership with the Greater Philadelphia Diversity Collaborative (GPDC) — a group of small-sized independent elementary schools — and annual attendance at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference have been priorities at Miquon for several years.

New to the staff work has been designating Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) as one of our top priorities. SEED uses a “train the trainer” model, where a school representative attends a week-long intensive training and then brings the same work back to the school. Fifth and sixth grade teacher Mark Palacio is our SEED leader, and we have added SEED sessions to the regular full-staff meeting agenda — where a set of texts, media, and art are presented to generate discussion and sharing. As a part of each session, staff members share their own stories and perspectives, hear those of others, and most importantly, tackle some very tough conversations that help us unpack our own biases.

In combination, all of these efforts help the staff become more sensitive to the lives of our students as they are developing curriculum and planning lessons — not to mention how they interact with students.

“Hearing about different staff members’ experiences helps us think about the vast and varied experiences of our students. Knowing this, we very actively and intentionally invite different perspectives into the classroom discourse,” explains Rossana.

This heightened awareness influences the texts teachers select for use in the curriculum, the foci of our writers workshops, and even the way we run classroom discussions. There is not one type of greeting used during Marea and Rich’s morning meeting, for instance. Rather, there are a host of greetings taken from around the world, tracked on a classroom map. Another example involves the way the Nursery classroom handles princess stories, often found in mainstream media. Instead of hearing about just one type of Cinderella, teachers are careful to present many books with many different versions of Cinderella–a classic story told many different ways by different cultures across the globe.

Another way the staff (together with the students) have brought this type of opening and sharing different stories is to continue the African American student affinity group and reading-writing support affinity group this year. Students in both groups have benefited from a space to hear from and support others who have had similar experiences to their own.

What’s Next?

With the feedback from parents and the foundational work for the board and staff well underway, the next layer of work for the DEA is with the parents and the larger community. There are plans afoot for book talks and SEED-like work for parent groups in the coming months. There will be short surveys in Miquon Matters, asking parents what religious holidays and considerations are important to keep in mind when planning the school calendar and events. And we will ask you again what is important to you, what you need.

Diversity, Equity, and ACTION

In the beginning, the DEA adjusted its initial name to include the word, “action” because the group felt that taking action would be their most important undertaking.

“This work on equity and anti-racism is really important, and needs constant care and attention,”says Principal Susannah Wolf.

“We are all at different points on our journey, but what matters is that we are all committed to being on the journey. At the same time, the conversations are only part of the work — action is needed as well. We want our children to develop the skills to speak up against racism and bias, and to take the confidence and compassion they learn here to make a difference in the world.”

If you have input for the DEA or want to get involved, get in touch with committee chair Lisa Pomeranz by emailing lisapomerantzster@gmail.com.

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