The Student Experience
Throughout students' years at Laurence, they are provided numerous opportunities to experience "Windows and Mirrors" - opportunities to see and learn about people who are different than themselves to foster understanding, respect, and appreciation for people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, while at the same time see themselves reflected in the school community and curriculum to foster feelings of inclusion and appreciation for themselves and those who they see as similar.
Our programs aim to develop in every student the ability to connect through his or her similarities to others' experiences, while learning to appreciate differences. Through these educational experiences, our students develop cultural literacy, respect for all, and the ability to connect and communicate in our interconnected global society.
Teaching Tolerance Domains
At Laurence, we believe it is critical to create a learning community where each child feels respected and valued. Incorporating anti-bias and anti-racism into our curriculum development is an important way to accomplish this goal. We are guided in this work by the principles of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that helps schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Our intention is to help students develop the knowledge and skills to navigate the diverse and multicultural world we live in through four domains - identity, diversity, justice, and action.
We continually review our curriculum to look for equitable representation of people from diverse backgrounds. Below are a few examples of how we are doing this:
Literature: We evaluate illustrations for stereotypes, tokenism, and the roles that people of color have in these stories, as well as check story lines for authenticity, whose experience is centered, and any bias that may be expressed.
Social Studies: We strive to introduce historical topics accurately, in age-appropriate ways, by making sure that classroom lessons and discussions include multiple perspectives. Additionally, lessons and reading assignments introduce historical figures and leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Current Focus: For the 2020-21 school year, our curriculum work is focusing on integrating multicultural history and Black and African-American history throughout all subject areas, including the arts.
Delving into our identities is a critical aspect of fostering our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. How do our identities shape our experiences, our world-view, our relationships with others, and the types of challenges we face? How can we talk about our own identity or others' identities with honesty and respect? Part of our ongoing work as administration and faculty is to build opportunities in our curriculum to guide children in exploring these kinds of questions.
In each grade level, student focus on a project that helps them express and understand their own identities. Examples include:
- 2nd grade students make culture flipbooks - the different pages focus on culture, language, food, clothing, celebrations, traditions, music, art and religion. Students worked on this project at home with parents, and then shared their flipbooks with peers in class.
- 6th grade students make an autobiographical scrapbook - a yearlong project where students create six pieces of writing and seven poems all relating to different aspects of identity: Who am I, My Family History, My Ambitions Past and Present, Events and People affecting my Life, and Causes I’m Willing to Fight For.
Through sharing their projects with one another in class, students have the opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences between the varied cultures of their peers.
Sister School Program
Our Sister School Program allows students to build connections with and develop empathy for children around the world. Through relationships with students in their sister schools, our Laurence students learn about other cultures and what daily life looks like in other parts of the world through the eyes of peers.
Each year, every grade level is paired with a sister school in a different country. Students communicate with peers at sister schools through Skype, videos, photos, letters and emails, sharing experiences about their school day, family life, traditions, music, art, and more. We also create opportunities for students to work on collaborative projects. As a great example, our 4th grade class recently worked on a musical collaboration with students from their sister school in Mexico. Click here to learn about this moving project and see a video with students singing the final song.
The sister school country also becomes a topic for cultural and historical study. Teachers integrate lessons about each country throughout the curriculum, embedding global context into social studies, art, music, drama, literature, and even math and science.
The relationships our students build with their sister school peers help them better understand that they are not just American citizens, but world citizens. The program helps them build cultural competency, the ability to interact with people from many different backgrounds, and develop an understanding of the world outside what they know and see on a daily basis.
Laurence's sister schools include:
- 1st Grade: California Kids Club, Shenzhen, China
- 2nd Grade: Vereniging De Gooische School, Laran, Netherlands
- 5th Grade: Carolyn A. Miller Elementary School, Liberian Buduburam Refugee Settlement near Accra, Ghana
Our all-school reads foster conversations around a wide variety of topics including friendship, differences, stereotypes, empathy, inclusivity, diversity and justice. Depending on the subject matter, either the whole school will read the same book aloud in each class, or developmentally-appropriate books on the same topic are read aloud. Reading aloud, paired with whole-class conversations, allows us to bring certain relationships and issues to the surface. The books we chose are tied to service learning projects, school events, national holidays, and current events. Examples have included:
- Food Insecurity: Maddie's Fridge by Lois Brandt - This book addresses food insecurity, and opened up discussions around socio-economic status. Last year, each class read this book together ahead of our annual SOUP-er Bowl, a food collection for the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry.
- Disability: Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw; Just Because by Rebecca Elliott; and My Pal Victor by Diane Gonzales Bertrand - These books were read ahead of our annual visit from students at the Lowman Special Education & Career Transition Center, a LAUSD school for individuals with severe physical and mental disabilities. Our school has a longtime relationship with Lowman, and many of our community service drives support Lowman students and their families (e.g., the 6th Grade Turkey drive and Kindergarten Toy Drive). Additionally, each year Lowman school students visit with Laurence's 6th graders, who are paired up in groups to enjoy a music class and play together.
- Ageism: Super Grandpa by David M. Schwartz - This book tells the true story of a 66-year-old Swedish man, who was told he could not enter a 1,000-mile bike race because he was too old. Students read this book in conjunction with our annual Kindergarten Grand Buddies' Day.
6th Grade Advisory
Each of our 6th grade students is assigned to a small advisory group at the beginning of their final year at Laurence. Throughout the year, students work together to ensure that all students are valued and have a voice. Topics for advisory groups come from both the students themselves as well as our school counselor.
Musical and dance performances provide an an engaging way to expand students' cultural competency. Throughout the school year at our school-wide Friday assemblies, we celebrate diversity and learn about other cultures with guest performances, which have included:
- Ghanian Music and Singing: This World Music founder, director and composer, Jeremy Cohen, brought traditional Ghanian instruments to an assembly, and taught students about each instrument, as well as the musical singing rhythms that accompanied them. Click here to read more.
- Mexican Independence: To celebrate this holiday, the Ballet Folklórico Flor de Mayo dance troupe performed traditional dances to Veracruz, Nueva Leon, and Jalisco. Click here to read more.
- Diwali: The award-winning Joya Kazi Unlimited Dance Company performed traditional Indian dances, as well as Bollywood dances, and then taught everyone at the assembly - students, faculty and even parents - some of the moves! The dancers, along with some of our students, also shared the meaning of the Diwali celebration. Click here to read more.
Many of these performances are facilitated by Laurence parents who wish to share their own cultural heritage with our school community. Click here to learn more about our Global Garden Parent Committee and parent involvement in DEI at Laurence.
Our students also perform songs, music, and dances that they have learned as part of their sister school cultural studies during our Friday assemblies. These assemblies have included our 1st grade's Lunar New Year celebration, at which they perform traditional Chinese dances and songs, our 4th grade performing traditional Mexican dances, and our 5th grade's African dance and signing performance.