King's culture of respect thrives in a kind and inclusive community
King School Students at SDLC
King Students excited for their first day at SDLC.

How does King School define a kind and inclusive community? Every day our staffulty, students, and parents make a choice to intentionally show consideration and compassion for others. King is committed to our Virtues of integrity, kindness, perseverance, and respect. One important way we show our commitment to cultivating a kind, inclusive community is by supporting staffulty at the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) and students at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC).

The National Association of Independent Schools describes the PoCC as "the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe 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."

While the adults engage at the PoCC, students concurrently attend SDLC, which "focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles," according to the SDLC website.

King Students and Staffulty debriefing over pizza after the first day of SDLC.

Continuing our tradition of participation in these vital conferences, a group of five Upper School students and six staffulty from multiple divisions and disciplines traveled together to Nashville, Tennessee earlier this month for a unique and memorable experience.

The group began their trip by visiting two colleges in Nashville: Fisk University, a historically black college (HBCU), and Vanderbilt University, a culturally and socioeconomically diverse institution. Both schools were founded shortly after the Civil War, and each served a different purpose. While Vanderbilt provided higher education mostly to white students at that time, Fisk educated African Americans almost exclusively because they were not allowed to attend most other colleges and universities. We learned about the schools' rich histories and their evolutions, as well as what it's like to be a student at these institutions both historically and in present day. We continued our deep dive into this space by watching and discussing modern movies that help educate viewers on diversity and inclusion including The Hate You Give and Green Book.

King Students and Staffulty visiting Vanderbuilt University.

At PoCC, adults had the opportunity to choose from 150+ workshop opportunities as well as meetings with our affinity groups. The conference offered safe spaces to talk about diversity and inclusion with a incredible range of educators and leaders who are passionate about these topics from independent schools across the United States. Our King participants networked with students and adults from other schools, and we built strong bonds with each other along the way. Now that we have returned to King, we have launched a weekly breakfast meeting on campus to keep the conversations and communication flowing.

Each of us found the conference inspiring in so many ways; these are just some of our initial, personal reflections:

"SDLC was an amazing experience for me. I loved bonding with my family group as we completed a variety of exercises exploring our identities and experiences. Being in an affinity group was also a wonderful experience and I felt like I was at home with my own people. I cannot wait to apply what I learned at SDLC to King and hope we can make an impact." - Alesia Paz '21

"SDLC was an amazing experience for me. Through the program, I was able to further build and develop cross-cultural communication skills and effective means of promoting justice. SDLC serves as a great means of reminding us that our differences make us unique. I made so many incredible friends I will cherish for a lifetime while learning about the many aspects of diversity. We were faced with challenging questions that had us think deeper about what it means to be any ally across all identifiers. One of my favorite parts of SDLC was participating in the black affinity group. I can honestly say that the affinity space was one of the most fun and empowering parts of my experience. There is something so inspiring about being in a room filled with people who have the same goal as you in terms of further promoting equity and inclusion." - Kimberly Villard '20

King Students sharing some conference reflections with all Connecticut state schools attendees.

"I went on the SDLC trip unsure of what it was going to be like and what I would be doing there. Little did I know that I would meet some of the kindest people I have ever known and bond with other [King] students I have never really known before. It was not only a community building experience for the King group, but a place where I could really be myself. SDLC was about accepting people for who they are. There are few environments where you know everyone will be proud of who they are, and my biggest takeaway is a new goal to try to bring more of that environment to King." - Sam Gleason '19

"Authenticity. That is the most prominent thing that I took away from SDLC. Every single person in my group was authentic - not because they had to be but because they were just being themselves. We were all comfortable to show our inner selves. I was so amazed because I honestly thought that not many people were authentic anymore or that they did not know how to be. This means so much to me because it is something I value in people. This is one thing I would love to bring back to King: showing people how to be authentic and genuine and not because they have to be, but just because that's who we are. I would just like to say thank you to everyone for everything!" - Grady Boruchin '19

King Students and Staffulty enjoying dinner together in Nashville,TN.

"This was my 8th PoCC and SDLC, so in many ways I knew exactly what to expect. I knew that I would get to spend time with my school colleagues pulling apart complex and challenging questions regarding diversity and inclusion, and also spending time just enjoying each other's company. I knew I would get to see colleagues from schools across the country who I usually only see at this conference - other Heads of School, teachers, consultants, leaders - who share the commitment to creating the most inclusive communities we can at our schools. I knew I would feel pushed and pulled and inspired by speakers and presenters who would shake me out of my comfort zone. I knew that I would find lots of familiar faces and a few new ones in my Middle Eastern affinity group - one of the only places where I can spend time with people who share so much with me culturally but who are not my cousins (!). And, I knew that I would have the opportunity to both help prepare my students for SDLC as much as possible, then observe and support them as they experienced what is always a transformational experience during that conference.

All of that happened this year, to be sure. And yet, what set this year apart from every other was that I experienced it all with my new King colleagues and students. The entire time we were together in Nashville, I found myself in an almost constant state of pride. I am incredibly proud of my colleagues' commitment to each other and our students; of our students' willingness to share themselves with one another and with students from other schools during the conference, and of King School itself, whose culture both attracts authentic people and then intentionally cultivates that authenticity. On Friday morning, all of the Heads of Color are invited to the stage to introduce ourselves - a very powerful moment for everyone in the great hall. When the mic reached me, all of these thoughts and emotions coalesced into palpable energy in me as I nearly shouted to the crowd: "I'm Karen Eshoo, and I am Head of School at King School in Stamford, Connecticut!!!" - Karen Eshoo, Head of School

Head of School Dr. Karen Eshoo introducing herself to conference attendees on stage with all of the people of color who are heads of independent schools.

"The conference was, as always, both inspiring and unsettling. I love hearing about the work that other schools and educators are doing in this area of individual and community growth, and I also find it challenging to confront ways that I -- and we -- fall short or miss the mark when it comes to inclusivity, awareness, and empathy. I loved the workshops and the conversations I had with colleagues, and I also felt so honored to see our students dive into the work and represent King so well!" - Jonathan Coulombe, Upper School Dean of Students

"For most of my educational and work experiences, I've been a minority in the room. While attending Westchester independent schools throughout my childhood, attending a male dominated business school, and working in the technology industry, I was also the minority in the room on so many visually obvious levels. One of the most striking experiences for me at PoCC was walking through the halls of this "work" conference and seeing so many people from all over the country who looked like me. As I listened and learned, I came away from the conference with two very strong feelings. First, I'm humbled by the fact that I had an overall great experience within my education and career. Second, I'm so proud and again humbled knowing that I work in a place where I can totally be myself. Not only am I welcomed, but I'm shown dignity everyday. That's what a kind, inclusive community is all about. I can't wait to use some of what we learned at PoCC at King." - Lakeya Graves, Marketing Manager

"I think the conference was a transformative experience, and one for which I think I'll be forever grateful. I would also add that I feel like I've been able to put ideas and strategies into direct practice in the classroom since I've gotten back, and I already feel like a better teacher for having gone. I would urge everyone from the King community to go at some point!" - Ben Schwartz, MS English Faculty

King Staffulty with our Fisk University Tour Guide who also performed for the conference attendees with his school Acapella group the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

"It was my honor to attend this year's PoCC in tandem with the King student delegation that simultaneously attended the SDLC. Though I have been to this conference twice before, each visit presents new insights and experiences with a dynamic group of educators and young people. This year in Nashville was no different. Our King group benefited from two days in Nashville prior to the start of the conferences, during which time we shared multiple meals together, explored downtown Nashville, and learned extensively about Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities through delightful, personalized tours. Fisk in particular was a highlight of our trip, as the King students were exposed to the pride and empowerment that define the experience at a Historically Black College or University. We connected personally with several of our student tour guides, a connection that only deepened later in the conference when we saw one of those very guides performing with the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

For me, there are two aspects of this experience that stand out. First and foremost is getting to witness a group of young people as they experience the SDLC. The students arrived at the conference with varying degrees of comfort and anticipation, but by the end of the week they had forged connections and uncovered personal truths that clearly resonated. I urged our students to "feel it," to recognize and reside in the mixture of powerful emotions that arose in those closing moments. Excitement at what was learned, frustration at what they now feel needs changing, longing for more of the deep connections that were forged - all of these were present in our students, and being there in support of these young people as they processed and translated these emotions was and always will be a highlight of my career in education.

What also stands out from the experience is how it furthered my own personal and professional journey relative to the work of inclusion and equity. As a white, heterosexual male who is leaning into this work in all facets of my life, I know that there will be challenges, that I will make mistakes, and that I must constantly be listening for the other voices that are traditionally, systematically drowned out. Attending the PoCC allows me to recalibrate my comfort levels, so that I can appreciate the urgency of the work and the tools that will make it successful. It is powerful, humbling, and essential, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to further my own growth in this setting, and in the presence of a similarly motivated and thoughtful group of educators." - David Bradt, US Science Faculty

"Especially now that I've returned to campus, I realize that what I value most about the conference is having shared the experience with students and staffulty for whom the commitment to developing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) progress at King is as important as it is to me. Casual conversations had en route to various destinations, whether on board our bus, plane, Uber, or while exploring the downtown sights and college campuses, or over delicious meals grabbed at all hours -- communicating as a community and looking after one another on the adventure was as important as the material of the sessions themselves. Making those connections has created a kind of kinship that has generated palpable momentum that subtly but meaningfully alters my sense of purpose with those similarly allied here, which is wonderfully leavening!

In terms of the substance of learning from the sessions themselves, I come away with an array of tools, cautionary tales, specific strategies for the classroom, and inspiration for ongoing curriculum development and event planning. I've narrowed my (overly long) notes to comments on two in particular:

  • Presenters from the Atlanta Girls' School delivered insights from the "top-down, ground-up" approach to DEI that they have implemented on their campus. It is an ambitious, school-wide array of instruction that includes grounds and kitchen staff as well. From summer reading for faculty, to advisory discussions, and a required course offering to orient all students to institutionalized social disparities, the DEI leader and Head of School expressed commitment to worry less about whether they're "going too fast," and more about providing tools to help people within their community to "handle the discomfort." They assiduously gather & analyze their school data, and urge that concerns about the academic "achievement gap" be shifted (or at least similarly focused on) to a gap in cultural competence. To be a 21st century school is to fill that gap for all. They have a dedicated line item for funding all DEI initiatives as their community priority, and Board members attend the conference as well as staffulty and students. Wow!
  • The librarian from my alma mater, Polytechnic School in Pasadena, CA delivered a similarly powerful punch of a presentation on the subject she titled, "Failing Our Kids of Color: When We Use Literature as a Weapon." She exhorted English educators in particular to consider how many of the revered works in the "canon" can be deeply traumatizing to the students of color who are usually minorities in their independent school classrooms. She urges departments to conduct an honest inventory of what they teach and why, to demand an accounting in response to the questions of who is telling the stories and what students of color receive in return. She shared a dizzying array of compelling examples, and decreed that educators be "licensed" in cultural competence if departments decide to continue teaching what she identifies as racist favorites, such as Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Again, wow!

On a different note, I have to add that the various concerts of the conference were incredibly uplifting. From the blast of a beginning with the local marching band, to the lecture-concert at Vanderbilt celebrating a pioneering composer of color, to the phenomenal Fisk voices, and rehearsals with fellow attendees, I felt buoyed by the inimitable powers of music to express and mobilize the full range of our most profound human emotions." - Elizabeth Messinger, US English Faculty