What does it mean to have community? What does it feel like to belong somewhere?
At Park School, we are very aware of diversity, equity and inclusion as both a collective package and as individual entities. If you’ve spent time at Park, you have heard that “diversity is who we are” and “equity is what we strive to provide” and “inclusion is how we get there.”
Even though we pay close attention to the ways in which diversity, equity and inclusion intersect, we also know that individuals can have feelings of isolation, feel like they are the “only one” and feel distanced from community.
One way that schools try to decrease isolation and increase a sense of belonging is through affinity groups. Affinity groups provide an opportunity for people with a shared identity to come together around those shared identities. Affinity groups are often created because a particular group of people are underrepresented in terms of numbers; spread out geographically (or grade levels) and find it difficult to come together; or do not have the opportunity to talk about their identity. Affinity groups certainly do not solve the problem of structural barriers that keep people isolated from one another, but getting together does help to ease these feelings of isolation.
On Tuesday, March 29th, we brought together a group of “Parents of Children of Color” at Park School. This group included parent(s) and caring adults who identified as coming from African, Latino, Asian, Native American and Multiracial backgrounds as well as families that include children who come from African, Latino, Asian, Native American and Multiracial backgrounds (e.g., shaped by cross-racial adoption).
Because of our commitment to equity, this program also included children of color, not just the adults, as part of the group. Further, to support families who rely on child-care or who might otherwise not be able to attend due to child care issues, we offered child care and programming at the event (thank you, Mrs. Formisano and Ms. Harmon!). Finally, we offered dinner, knowing that this event was happening right after the work day ended and overlapped with the dinner hour for families. Why do I mention this? Because these are structural barriers that often keep working families, families who rely on child care, families with children, and partners who might not otherwise have opportunities to attend a chance to come together. I believe that access starts with reducing structural barriers.
For the first 30 minutes, families were able to enjoy a simple dinner together. We were joined by members of the Admin team (thanks Mrs. Lucey and Mr. Robinson!) who welcomed families and set a really nice tone that this event was fully supported by our school administration. Now, as a program organizer I was freaking out … not enough seats, tight spaces… But, then I reframed. I thought of it less as a formal school event and more as a “house party” — one where people are sitting on couches and arms of couches; leaning up against a wall; eating dinner while balancing a plate along the counter. And, once that happened, I realized that this vibe is exactly what we needed. We needed comfort. We needed familiarity. We needed to fell like this was home.
After dinner, Mrs. Formisano and Ms. Harmon brought the children to the playground for the first 15 minutes. Then, the children segued into the programmatic part of the night — getting to know each other and talking about being children of color at Park School. They learned each other’s names, their likes and dislikes, and were encouraged to say “hello!” to each other in the hallways or at car pool or in the cafeteria. They were no longer strangers.
For the adults, this was an opportunity to meet other parents of children of color and to talk a bit about who we are. In mixed-groups, the following questions were provided for roundtable discussions:
- How you you racially or ethnically self-identify? How does your family racially or ethnically self-identify?
- Why did you choose private education for your child(ren)? Is this experience similar to or different from your own upbringing?
- Do you feel like you belong at The Park School? Does your child feel like (they) belong at The Park School?
- Reflecting on your discussions tonight, complete the following prompts: “I think; I hope; I want; I feel”
There was a range of relationships in the room — some people were there with their spouses/partners; some were there as representatives of their families; some had been at Park for years and felt very connected; some had been at Park only a short time and felt isolated.
By the end of the evening, it was difficult to get parents to move on and stop talking 🙂 Always a great situation!
Within 24 hours, we heard feedback about how important this event was for individuals and for the community. Teachers had commented that their students were talking about the event with great pride. Parents had sent emails and had conversations with administrators that this was “the first time I felt like part of something at Park.”
What does it mean to belong somewhere? What does belonging do to and for us?
How can we create more opportunities for connections and kindness?
Peace and Park,