Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there.
Here we go!
It’s the end of Labor Day Weekend, and school is just about to begin (or perhaps you are reading this just after school has already started).
One of the reasons I personally chose to work at The Park School is the organizational commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Heck, it’s my job title. Even more heck, it fits on a business card and my tiny name tag. Impressive!
The Park School is a community of diverse families, people, learners, and teachers. But, that diversity doesn’t mean much unless we all find ways to learn about each other and to interact. We have to engage in INCLUSION. After all, INCLUSION is the result of making sure that people in a diverse community know how to interact with each other and that we take steps to make sure we are all part of the every day life of our school.
Recently a fantastic article has been making its way around social media called “6 Ways Parents Can Teach Their Kids About Race and Diversity.” I loved it. It’s short, simple and to the point. The author briefly says these six things (I’m short-handing because I really hope you read the full piece!):
Have a diverse group of friends.
Purchase books and toys that support diversity.
Expose your child to diverse music, art, films and TV shows.
Talk about current events.
Go the extra mile (literally) to surround yourself with diverse groups.
Don’t laugh at racist jokes or engage in banter that perpetuates racist stereotypes.
As we begin our year at The Park School, here are some very actionable ways that you can incorporate these six aspects into your life:
Have a diverse group of friends. Introduce yourself on the first day of school to other adults/parents/guardians in your child’s class. Surely, if you are a returning Parkie, you’ll know people. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to new folks — I promise you they’ll appreciate the radical kindness that you show them. Further, within the first two weeks of school, set up a little play date or even a “let’s meet a few minutes before school to have coffee in the lobby” together. This extra act of hospitality is especially important for any families who might have a different family structure, racial or ethnic background, or just new to The Park School. As a new family of color here at Park, I can tell you that I was incredibly nervous meeting other parents in my children’s grades; and I was so thankful for people who went out of their way to say “hello and welcome” to me!
Purchase books and toys that support diversity. Wander through your child’s classroom (especially in Lower and Middle Division) and see what books the teachers have on display. They have been very intentional about including diverse representation in their class. Ask to borrow that book or buy one for your home. Or, if you need those first few minutes to settle your child, choose one of those books to read together before drop off. If you are unable to come to Park in the mornings, email your teacher and ask for a few book recommendations or if the teacher can send a book home every week. For Upper Division, talk about the books they read this summer — they were intentionally chosen for their themes about diversity and inclusion.
Expose your child to diverse music, art, films and TV shows. Got a long car ride home? Play music from a community or culture that is not typically played in your house. Celebrate the first week of school by trying a new restaurant or flip through some art from different communities or culture.
Talk about current events. Current events — I mean, what isn’t happening in our world today? So much is going on. For younger students, what is the “first day of school” like in other countries? In other parts of the country? For older students, they can handle some of the current events politics — have some dinner talk about it so they can get used to engaging in these dialogues with you.
Go the extra mile (literally) to surround yourself with diverse groups.This is my favorite! Choose an after school activity that is outside of your neighborhood or community. Join the Y in the next town over. SIgn up for lessons or a sport at a rec center different from the one you are currently in. Yes, this may mean a few extra minutes in the car or commuting or scheduling. That’s a choice we make. If not during the school year, be mindful about signing up for camps or lessons or sports during the summer in other neighborhoods.
Don’t laugh at racist jokes or engage in banter that perpetuates racist stereotypes. Walk away. Or, if you’re feeling prepared and brave, address the situation. Some of my favorite “verbal frisbees” (phrases I throw out hoping someone will “catch” them) are: “Ouch, that didn’t feel so good to hear that word”; or “I’m not sure what’s funny about that”; or “Hmm… that’s an interesting way to phrase that.” Our children are watching — they watch how we react, what we permit, and what we address. And, they take our cues about how to address issues of injustice and unkindness by what we allow in our own lives.
Looking forward to a great school year filled with lots of learning and growing together!
Peace and Park,
Sometimes, we don’t tell you everything.
‘Is there something you’re not telling me?’
Sometimes, it’s important to just tell a few folks. Sometimes, it’s safer to just tell a few folks.
I remember the first time I offered a Safe Space program at a school where I was working. This school, while made up of strong allies in LGBT communities, struggled in its dialogue about identity and LGBT inclusion.
Here was the rub, ya? Here we have a need to talk about and openly support our friends and family who identified as LGBT; and we needed to guide our community its own identity exploration.
So, for the first year, I just told a few folks. I just told a few folks that we would be doing “this thing called Safe Space training.” I didn’t advertise it. I didn’t want to make it political. I didn’t want to make it inflammatory. I didn’t even want to make it official. Because, official meant, quite possibly, that it wouldn’t happen.
That first year, we gathered people together and shared experiences, strategies, and insight into being LGBT or being allies. It was wonderful. It was important. And, it was necessary.
The next year, we made it a bit more public. We emailed it. We didn’t quite put it on the front page of the website, but we did advertise it through formal networks.
The next year, we had a waitlist.
The next year after that, we had to get a bigger room.
The next year after that, we had to offer multiple sessions in those big rooms.
The next year after that, no one had know that there was a time when we had to just tell a few friends.
It is so important, in the first time/year, that we are intentional about the support of people and groups. For example, a colleague of mine had asked, “Liza, people want to know why you didn’t advertise that you were hosting a Parents of Children of Color Group. Why didn’t we tell everyone that Park was doing it? It sort of feels like it’s hiding it.”
Well, yes. For some, it’ll feel like we are hiding it. For others, (and its this group that I’m more interested in including), it feels safe.
Sometimes, only telling a few feels safer.
Sometimes, only telling a few means we can build community interest from within.
Sometimes, I’m not thinking about what the majority wants, but what the minority needs.
Peace and Park,
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,
Don’t have favorites. That’s the advice we get as parents (referring to our children). But, is it possible to have favorites among adults?
It is! And, Mr. Porter is one of my favorites.
Let me be clear: When I was growing up, I did not like going to the library. Unlike my sister who got lost in libraries, taking her imagination from historic battlefields to fantastic journeys to outer space to Victorian era parties, I pretty much just got lost in libraries. Literally (pun intended). I was the kid who went to the library and who kept getting up to go to the bathroom, only to get absolutely lost because, let’s face it, every single stack, row and column looked exactly the same. But, my sister never noticed I was lost. You guessed it, she was busy reading.
In college, I was the one who went to the library to hang out.
In grad school,
I went to the library …. I never went to the library.
By the time I was in my doctoral studies, “the library” was online.
Now, as a parent, when I want to spend time with the children, we go to the movies or an amusement park or head to the playground. When my sister spends time with the children, they go to the library.
As a teacher and educator at Park School, the library is at the heart of the building. Within just a few days of school starting, Mr. Porter told me that he had lots and lots of books for me to read. “Picture books,” he clarified. “They are just really interesting and I thought you should know about them.” It took me three weeks to get through those picture books.
Since Mr. Porter’s first special delivery of books, he occasionally pops in and shares new books with me. And, because of my work, these books usually address a cultural identifier: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, family structure, ability.
Mr. Porter has so much wonderful insight into books, identity-conscious literature, and ways to engage families. But, one comment stood out to me early on; Mr. Porter told me that “There is a trend in the type of books that never get checked out of the library. Those usually have pictures of children of color on the front.” Gasp. Really? This was so difficult to understand because the general rule in my own home is that books must have characters from diverse backgrounds.
Over time, Mr. Porter, along with his awesome colleagues, have been intentional about providing culturally engaging literature. But, only today did I learn about a special program he runs: The Purple Backpacks.
About once a month, Mr. Porter selects a special book for each kindergartner. Sometimes, these books have a theme (e.g., Black issues or characters during Black History Month; books about gender during Women’s History Month) and sometimes these are just fun books. He also created a family-fun opportunity — the students can only open the backpacks when they get home and do a big reveal!
I love this idea.
If you are reading this post, and not lucky enough to have a “Mr. Porter” at your school, you certainly can create a similar program in your own family or school:
- Pick up a different book each week or month.
- Ask a staff member at your library to recommend a “great book that doesn’t always get checked out.”
- Get ideas by looking up “national heritage months” or “awareness weeks” and discussing these themes with your family.
- Do a “big reveal” with your own family to create some excitement!
Keep up the great work, Mr. Porter!
Peace and Park,
Every so often, I travel up one flight of stairs to see my friend, Mrs. Penna.
Mrs. Penna and I have a lot in common.
- We are both teachers and educators at The Park School.
- We both have three children.
- We both are on the Administrative Team.
- We both love Peppermint Patties and eat them almost every day.
- We both have a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Over the past few months, Mrs. Penna and I have had so many conversations about diversity, race, family, friends, faith and religion, and yes, even Peppermint Patties.
The other day, I was in her office talking, again, about issues of diversity. It was at that moment, despite the fact that I have spent dozens of hours in there, that I finally noticed this.
There was nothing in Mrs. Penna’s office that signaled her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
So what, Ms. Talusan, you might be thinking. You know she is committed. Why does it matter that she signals that to you?
Well, here’s why.
See, I have had the opportunity to get to know Mrs. Penna. We have talked about our lives, our interests, our challenges, and our thoughts and beliefs. I have spent time with her. I have met her family (well, most of them). And she, in turn, has met mine.
But, how would you ever know that Mrs. Penna has any commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion? If you walked past her office, would you know she is someone you could talk to about issues of race, faith, family, gender, sexual orientation, or ability?
The answer is: You wouldn’t.
It was one of those, “Oh my goodness” moments. So, how did we fix that?
We had a conversation about what she wants to signal.
“I want to signal that I am an ally to people who identify as LGBTQ. I want to signal that I am an ally to people of color. I want to signal that I want to have conversations about faculty coaching and teaching AND issues of identity.”
Cool. So, we did just that.
And now? Mrs. Penna’s office clearly signals her commitment to these issues to anyone just walking by her office.
Have you looked around your classroom or office lately? If a stranger walked in, would they know if you are committed to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion?
Peace and Park,
Hello Park School!
My name is Liza Talusan, and I serve as the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I am new to Park School, but the commitment to these important issues have been a part of the fabric of our community since the beginning. So, it is such an honor and privilege to be able to support and encourage our faculty, staff, students, and parents through this life-long journey.
Though I am new to Park School, many of you have known a member of my family for quite some time. Jorge Vega, Park’s Director of Technology, was at Park School from 2005-2010 and returned in July 2014. Yes, we are married. Yes, he’s one of my favorite teachers of all time. Yes, he is as funny at home as he is at Park. Little known fact: did you know that Mr. Vega got his start teaching theater? That’s right!
Over my 17 year career in education, I have worked in both independent preK-12 schools and in higher education. Most of my professional work has been in diversity and equity education, focusing on access, support and engagement around issues of inclusion. I am one of the rare people who loves strategic planning and thinking, institutional assessment, and, yes, even public speaking!
Jorge and I are not the only ones related at this school, though. Our three children all started at Park School this year. And, though we have quite a commute to school (sometimes almost 2-hours!), the children and I can’t wait to get to Park each morning and really have to pull ourselves way from it in the evenings. Jorge and I are lucky that we have children in each division (Evan is in Lower; Jada is in Middle: and Joli is in Upper), so we get to see Park School from the viewpoint of people in all three divisions.
It has been a wonderful first few months at Park. I am so thankful that parents, teachers and students feel comfortable coming into the office (I’m in the 2nd grade hallway), saying hello whenever they see me running around the hallways, and joining me for committee meetings and educational workshops.
I hope to meet you in person soon, too!