Students, faculty, staff, and administrators from all over the country came together for this year’s People of Color Conference (PoCC) and Student Diversity Leadership Conference. The conferences, hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), were held online from November 29 to December 3, providing a virtual format of seminars, workshops, and affinity groups for its participants. Dr. Clyde Beverly III, who joined King School in July as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, reported that over 30 members of the King community participated in the conferences. “If we are to truly be an inclusive, welcoming, and respectful community, it is critical that our students, staff, and teachers engage in learning opportunities such as these,” said Beverly.
PoCC veteran and King English teacher Stephanie Hoos found the experience to be a valuable asset to her learning as a DEI coordinator at King. “There are abundant resources available to help shape my ideas, but the educators at PoCC are so vulnerable and real about not having all of the answers,” she said. “I always feel tremendously lucky to hear from so many different people and perspectives in order to grow and evolve in both my classroom and professional practice.”
First-time participant and science teacher Joey Lener also plans to apply his learning from the conference to the classroom. “There are certain scientific events, such as the onset of an invasive species or climate change, that are not just occurring in our country, but around the world,” said Lener. “If students consider different perspectives, they can better understand how certain events have an impact on areas around the world, and what those impacts are.”
The conference offered a wide range of seminars addressing subjects such as racial allyship, educational equity, and cultural value leadership, to name a few. Performing arts teacher and lower school DEI coordinator Cara Welch attended a seminar titled “Do You See What I Mean? Facilitating Courageous Conversations Visually” led by DEI practitioners Rosetta Lee, Kawai Lai, and Tamisha Williams. They taught participants how to inspire community members to see new perspectives through visual representations.
“Though I’m not a visual artist, the sessions reminded me that both students and adults learn and express in a variety of ways. I came away with an awesome toolkit that I feel confident bringing to the faculty and students in our Lower School,” said Welch.
The conferences also offered workshops that provided a more interactive, hands-on approach to learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Science teacher and Director of STEM Tom Castonguay attended a workshop titled “Vessel of Activism within Science Education,” where he learned about “windows and mirrors,” an approach to teaching where students both see themselves in the curriculum and learn about others in order to understand and appreciate multiple perspectives.
“For example, we can build lessons around examples of underrepresented professionals in STEM. Such lessons can go a long way toward helping students develop a STEM identity that they might not otherwise experience. I also learned of a few resources such as websites and Ted Talks that I know will prove useful in the future,” said Castonguay.
Rosalba Santander, a Spanish teacher in King’s Lower School, also attended a workshop entitled “Colorism in the Latinx Community,” which helped her better understand how her own lived experiences can add to her effectiveness as a DEI leader. “I walked away with strategies and resourceful language I can use to address colorism when I witness it. By changing the narrative in my personal life and at King, I can spread awareness and create a more equitable and inclusive environment for both educators and students.”
The conferences also host affinity group sessions to allow participants to connect with other individuals who share membership in a specific racial or ethnic identity group. Affinity groups encourage participants to share stories, celebrate uniqueness, and engage freely under the guidance of trained facilitators.
Associate Director of Admission for the Upper School Dana Thomas participated in the Black and African American affinity group. “It was great to reflect, support, share, laugh, and cry with other educators who travel similar yet varying journeys at their schools. Time with my group reinforced how crucial and needed that specific time is with peers from various independent schools across the country,” said Thomas.
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which runs concurrently with the People of Color Conference, is a diverse gathering of upper school students from Grades 9 to 12. It also offered virtual seminars, workshops, and affinity groups specifically for students to interact with one another in learning about aspects of leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
King students Tucker Pedersen ’22 and Madeline Beck ’23 reflected on their meaningful experiences at the conference. “I’m very hopeful for the future. Seeing so many like-minded individuals come together to learn and fight for a similar cause was truly inspiring,” said Tucker. “SDLC helped us hone in on our leadership skills, and I can’t wait to bring my new enthusiasm and inspiration to King’s community.”
Madeline added, “It is so important to create safe spaces for students to express their thoughts and feelings freely without judgment. We are all in this together.”