Tag Archives: inclusion

Everyone Represented: Advocating for More Inclusive Health Education

“I applaud each of you for your courage to write me and for also embracing what we must all do to respect and care for each other. How can we do that? One way is doing just what you did—learn about the wide spectrum of gender as well as the facts about sex and sexual health, and also embrace diversity and inclusion.” Robie Harris, author of It’s Perfectly Normal

How did our sixth grade students come to receive such a thoughtful letter from author Robie Harris? Their dialogue with Harris, and this story, began last spring just prior to their annual puberty unit in science class when their teachers asked the students to think about the language used to explore gender in It’s Perfectly Normal, Harris’ well known and oft used text about changes to the body associated with puberty.

The students quickly noticed that while some acknowledgment of gender diversity was present, the anatomy pictures referred solely to cisgender girls and boys bodies. And while these images provided a reflection of their own bodies for students, they acknowledged that these depictions may not be true for people with transgender bodies or gender non-conforming bodies. Further, using empathy they were able to reflect that reading this book and studying these drawings that didn’t show the wide variety of students’ gender experiences might feel bad at a time when things already feel awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.

As students continued to read with this eye for inclusivity, they also noticed a fairly limited variety of sexual orientations reflected. While the text did mention the sexual orientations lesbian, gay, and bisexual, they saw no mention of other identities that exist and that are important to many students such as pansexual and asexual identities.

Struck by their observations, they worked with their teachers to determine a course of action and thought about how they could affect change. They were offered the option of constructing a letter to the author with their suggestions for how to make the book more inclusive and began thinking about how they would approach Harris with their thoughts.

Working in groups, their first step was to study the book very closely and highlight areas where changes could be made. Each group then crafted a letter to Harris that acknowledged the challenges of writing this book, recognized the work put into the book, and honored how much Harris had already pushed the envelope in terms of puberty education. They then offered specific suggestions to improve gender and sexual orientation inclusivity. Over the summer teachers consolidated the letters into one letter that included all major points, including photocopies of page edits, edits to copy and images, a chart to organize suggestions, and sent it off to Harris in August.

Students received a response this fall, and were thrilled to hear that many of their suggested changes were already set to appear in the book’s next edition. Harris expressed much appreciation for the students’ suggestions and feedback and understood the importance of updating the book to be much more inclusive. She writes:

“Most every suggestion you made regarding the most recent text are revisions that I have already made in the text for what will be the 25th anniversary edition of It’s Perfectly Normal before I received your letter. But I still found your letter and chart with all of your specific suggestions extremely helpful in checking against what I had already revised. That is something I always do. Double-checking, triple-checking one’s facts and writing is important to do. Facts and evidence matter. In some places, I may have chosen different ways to talk about gender and other information that you suggested I add or change. I may have made different choices, but I hope and believe it is as inclusive and respectful as your suggestions.”

Students were surprised they received a response and felt validated and hopeful about the forthcoming changes to the book. Published in 1994, this book and it’s author provide a great model of lifelong learning and all that’s possible when one continues to think critically and remain open to change. Our students practice these same skills – from inquiry to critical thinking to empathy – in all of their subjects and will take these skills with them when they leave Prospect Sierra and make their mark on the world.

Deepening Our Commitment to Professional Development at PoCC

Every year the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) hosts its annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) for people of color who work in independent schools across the nation. This year’s conference was held in Nashville, Tennessee and was titled Equitable Schools, Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord, and the Notes In Between. 6400 people participated in PoCC and its corresponding conference for students of color, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC).

Historically, Prospect Sierra has sent faculty and staff to PoCC, but over the last several years, we’ve taken this commitment to the next level by ensuring that all faculty and staff of color that would like to attend are supported in doing so. This means that 24 individuals, including board members, represented Prospect Sierra at PoCC this year, our largest group ever!

Why PoCC?

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.

At Prospect Sierra we commit to sending our faculty and staff to PoCC because we believe that:

  • Equity and excellence are only achievable for us if we have a diverse community of administrators, faculty, staff, and students.
  • Research shows that academic achievement of all children goes up when there are faculty of color in the community.
  • We need to support and retain our teachers of color so that all children in our diverse community will thrive.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is all of our work.  

What happens at PoCC?

Over the course of three full days, our leaders at PoCC attended workshops, participated in affinity group conversations, and presented in four workshops! Prospect Sierra faculty and staff led the following workshop discussions:

  • Experiences of Multiracial Female Leaders in Independent Schools: Renée Thompson, Director of Admissions & Outreach, along with colleagues from other schools, shared their stories to elucidate the voices of a population not often represented in leadership studies.
  • Beyond the Single Story: Elementary teachers Maria Montes Clemens, Zahra Jackson, and Sandi Tanaka, along with Division Head Abby Guinn, discussed the transformation of our school’s winter performance into a interdisciplinary cultural experience that provides students with windows to see out into the world and mirrors to reflect back who they are.
  • Illuminating and Challenging Implicit Bias in the Hiring Process: Director of Diversity & Inclusion Britt Anderson, 5th grade teacher Nathan Tanaka, and Jessica McCann from Brigham Hill Consultancy shared how Prospect Sierra engaged our head search committee in exploring the concept of implicit bias and building in strategies to mitigate the team’s own biases during the head search hiring process.  
  • The Future of Equity and Inclusion in Independent Schools: How Five Heads are Leading Through Challenge and Opportunity featured Head of School Katherine Dinh alongside fellow heads of school to address the most pressing challenges when it comes to a school’s equity and inclusion strategies.

Our team also attended talks by authors, educators, diversity thought leaders, and more, including Marian Wright Edelman, Luz Santana, Julia Lythcott-Haims, and Marc Lamont Hill. Teachers utilized Santana’s question asking methods to start a unit in 2nd grade science and for developing thesis ideas about Animal Farm in 8th grade humanities immediately upon return. Sharing concrete learnings from the time away was a priority and greatly appreciated by the students.

Overall, faculty and staff reported feeling supported and inspired at PoCC, and reiterated the power of connection they felt with fellow faculty and staff of color. One person noted that when we send so many people to an affinity space for people of color, our school community sends a powerful message about our school’s values and our approach to providing support for faculty and staff of color. Further, it elevates the understanding of the importance of affinity spaces for everyone in our community.

We are committed to an ongoing dialogue around difference, privilege, equity, and changemaking that engages all of our constituents, and supporting faculty and staff to attend PoCC is a critical part of this work. From school-supported cohort groups for students and families, to partnerships with local organizations, to partnering with parents about how to talk with children about race, we believe that these conversations help us to be thoughtful citizens and responsible community members.