In December of 2020, a group of seven faculty members and one tenth grader had the opportunity to participate in the NAIS’s People of Color Conference (PoCC) and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). This conference is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.
The theme of this year’s conference was Changing Lives, Changing Systems, Choosing Justice. As newly appointed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) coordinators for CESJDS this was an opportunity for us to connect with, learn from, and thoughtfully reflect on the work there is to do in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion at CESJDS. Many of the sessions were aimed at classroom application of DEI best practices, including making sure all student identities are reflected in the curriculum, ensuring that history is not all taught from the white Eurocentric point of view, and creating spaces for students and teachers to have difficult conversations about complex topics.
Students participating in the SDLC had the opportunity to explore topics relating to social justice through art and conversations that were led by both student leaders and adult facilitators. Lasting friendships and connections were formed though these sessions.
Additionally, there were daily opportunities to meet in affinity groups, (groups in which there is a shared identity either as a person of Color or white allies attending the conference) for both adults and students. These affinity groups were a valuable opportunity to reflect on the learning from the day while facilitated by others who had attended PoCC in the past. The conversations and resulting connections in these spaces left us energized and excited to continue our DEI work at CESJDS.
Currently we are focused on bringing programs about race and racial justice to our students through a variety of assemblies. One example includes a conversation at each division with Marra Gad, a mixed race, Jewish author of The Color of Love. Additionally we are planning assemblies and learning content focused on African Americans, their lived experiences, and their contributions to American society. Another area of immediate focus for us as DEI coordinators is to create a long-term professional development plan regarding topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The intellectual and emotional challenges brought forth at this conference have inspired us to continue to work to build the infrastructure that will allow the CESJDS community to participate in this ongoing critical work.