Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Laurence
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Laurence

By Liz Silverman, Director of Kindergarten - 2nd Grade

Developing students to become strong global citizens has been an important goal at Laurence for many years. We first instituted our Global Garden Educational Program more than 10 years ago as a way to focus in on expanding our students' perspective and understanding. We developed a curriculum that spiraled up through the grades and focused on individual heritage and building relationships with students around the world through sister schools. Our global curriculum is always evolving as we strive to go deeper and stay current with world changes. 

We don't know today exactly what a "global citizen" will need to be 10, 20 or 30 years from now. But we do know that it will involve interacting with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, whether they involve cultural, religious, socio-economic, learning style, or gender differences. To prepare our students for life experiences, it is critical that we begin in kindergarten by engaging students in discussions around the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion ("DEI").  

Laurence School prides itself on meeting the needs of all learners.  For example, we differentiate our math and reading groups to ensure students of all learning styles are supported in furtherance of educating the "Total Child."  One way we'll be expanding the ways in which we meet the needs of all students is by providing more learning opportunities for students to explore who they are as individuals and ensuring that every member of our school community feels understood and valued for who they are, including what makes them different and special.  

We are proud that our Laurence community encompasses families, faculty, staff and administrators from many different backgrounds, yet we are all united in our school's mission and vision for elementary education. It is important that each student is able to see the world through multiple perspectives, as well as reflect on their own. Whether their differences are cultural, gender-based, socio-economic, or related to their learning styles, we want to ensure that the classroom environment is inclusive and that our curriculum reflects our school community.  

One way to implement an inclusive curriculum is to make sure that it includes "windows and mirrors."  Emily Style, Co-Director of the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project, explains the concept like this: "... curriculum must function both as a window and as a mirror in order to reflect and reveal most accurately both the multicultural world and the student herself or himself.  If the student is understood as occupying a dwelling of self, education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected."

Last spring, I saw the impact a mirror can have on a student. During a unit on American Heroes, one of our teachers realized that while her lessons reflected a variety of cultures, there were no representatives from the Asian-American culture. After doing some research, she selected a book for the class about Fred Korematsu, an American civil rights activist who objected to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. While sharing his story, the teacher saw one of her students come to life and engage with her in a way she hadn't seen before. In this moment, she realized that he had not seen himself reflected in the curriculum. It was heartwarming to see this small addition make such a tremendous impact on a student. 

We will be working to find more ways to incorporate the concept of windows and mirrors throughout our curriculum so that kids explore the unfamiliar, but also see their own life experiences validated and valued. Having both of these perspectives will help our students become well-rounded citizens of tomorrow.

A next step in this journey to better understand and teach multiple perspectives began this summer with our community read of Whistling Vivaldi, by Claude Steele. The book is about stereotype threats, how stereotypes affect us, and what we can do about it.  Additionally, our faculty and staff will be working with Alison Park of Blink Consulting, who helps schools and organizations to critically re-think the purpose, practice and outcomes of their diversity initiatives.  Alison will guide us in developing a common language around diversity, equity and inclusion, and in how to speak to each other and to students when we are "not sure."  Through both of these opportunities, we are looking forward to better understanding who we are as individuals and subsequently being able to help our students truly understand the broader sense of our community and world.  

We will also be expanding our social studies curriculum this year by introducing new concepts based on the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards of Identity and Diversity. Through these standards, our students will begin to learn to recognize all of the "identities" to which they belong and how to negotiate these in an ever changing world. Students will also begin to develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups. Through literature, discussions, and interactions with students in their sister schools, Laurence students will continue to develop a sense of empathy, understanding, respect, and connection with students of varying backgrounds.  

We look forward to sharing examples of student learning that reflects our expanded and evolving global education curriculum. If you have an interest in shaping our diversity, equity and inclusion goals at Laurence, please be sure to join our Global Garden Parent Association Committee. 

Here's to a great school year!