Ravens Accept “Ongoing Invitation” to Build an Inclusive Community

ETHOS: Ravens Accept “Ongoing Invitation” to Build an Inclusive Community

Building on its foundational work, the school has kicked off new programs centered around faculty, student and parent/guardian commitments to facilitating greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Janice Lewine
April 15, 2022

In December 2020, Ravenscroft’s Board of Trustees adopted a Statement of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, affirming that the institution is committed to fostering a strong sense of community in which all members feel seen and respected.

At Ravenscroft, we believe it is the responsibility of each person in our community to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of school life — from our classrooms to our boardroom, from the arts to athletics.

We listen to, empathize with, learn from and value our differences, both visible and invisible. We are committed to fostering an atmosphere of unyielding curiosity where students, faculty, staff, alumni and families are respected, feel safe and have a sense of belonging.

In turn, we build citizen leaders equipped to thrive in a complex and interdependent world and change it for the better.

— Ravenscroft’s Statement of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

As Head of School Doreen Kelly explained, the charge that the board statement confers has become “the anchor” for all work in this space moving forward. It’s an imperative that is deeply connected to the school’s guiding framework, Lead From Here, and the commitment to imbue Ravenscroft students with character, service and leadership and equip them to take their place as citizen leaders in a complex and interdependent world.

“This evidence-based work is an ongoing invitation to be curious about other people,” she said. “We’re not a community built on sameness. This is not a journey of perfection; it’s a journey of self-awareness and connection.”

Building on foundational work done over the last several years, the school has kicked off a number of programs and initiatives built around faculty, student and parent/guardian commitment to these goals — deepening the impact of Lead From Here and empowering members of the community to change their world. Here, we explore three recent initiatives that support this vision.


Building Empathy: The Dialogic Classroom and Dialogue Across Difference

Through intensive work with Essential Partners, Ravenscroft has initiated training for teachers to become facilitators of conversations that respect differences and work toward understanding. This model, known as The Dialogic Classroom, focuses on “connection before content” and facilitates ways for teachers to fold into their curriculum dialogues that open students up to varying perspectives and help them better understand their own views and values.

As Lisa Horton, Assistant Head of School for Human Resources and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, explained, “We want to ensure students can have conversations around differences and not be at odds. The goal for our DE&I work is for students to express empathy with each other and also be curious about another person’s thoughts, beliefs and values.”

Middle School teacher Christina Frazier and Jaden Colson ’26 participate in an activity as part of her Dialogic Classroom practice.

Sheila Awasthi ’26 and Middle School teacher Sarah Baker listen as another student shares during a Dialogic Classroom exercise.


Last August, an initial cohort of 22 faculty members in the Middle School and Upper School took part in training to learn how to bring about these conversations among their students through the use of “connecting questions.” Structured to engage each student, these thought-provoking questions are designed to humanize fellow students and cut across, rather than reinforce, preconceived categories. Students discuss what’s meaningful to them and share personal experiences in the way they want them to be known. The dialogues also lay the groundwork for more difficult conversations in the future.

Teachers aren’t the only ones fostering a more inclusive and empathetic school community. Last summer, 24 Upper School students were selected to receive training from Essential Partners to facilitate Dialogue Across Difference, conversations with their peers about challenging topics that are critical to the Upper School’s sense of community. They have since led several discussions with fellow students during a Day of Dialogue. Spring topics included Meaningful Conversations, Giving and Receiving Support, and Building a Stronger Community.

Peer facilitators include: (front) Sophia Hopper ’24, Grace Petrov ’24, Kennedy Cousar ’22, Davis Anderson ’22; (back) Tul Cherukuri ’24, Nyla Moore ’24, Lindsey Carter ’22, Jairus Cook ’22, Jenna Taylor ’22.

Dialogue Across Difference peer facilitators Jenna Taylor ’22 and Beixi Gu ’25, at far left, lead a dialogue with ninth-graders to support their transition to the Upper School.


Jane McNeill ’24 said she trained to be a peer facilitator because she wanted to help address concerns affecting the student body. “I work to create a space where participants can safely discuss issues they may disagree about without judgment. The goal isn’t to persuade each other but to find common ground,” she said. “Having a space for discussion allows for authentic exchanges.”

“I think that an extremely important skill for everyone’s life is knowing how to talk to other people in an effective way and how to communicate your own opinion effectively,” fellow peer facilitator Carter Anderson ’23 added. “There are some very difficult and uncomfortable conversations that need to be held at some point, and this [program] is a great first step in that direction.”

“This is important work connected to Lead From Here and our ongoing invitation to build a stronger community,” Kelly said. “Young people are exercising leadership development around how to change the world. This is an environment that allows them to practice that, and we as adults to be supportive. It helps us fulfill the mission of preparing kids for the complexities ahead and feel confident in their desire to be both curious and kind.”

Above, members of the Student Diversity Advisory Committee gather outside the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center following a lunchtime meeting.

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Upper School students enjoy the seating outside the Olander Center during a break from classes.

Advancing Inclusion and Belonging: Upper School Student Diversity Advisory Council

The Student Diversity Advisory Council, also new this year, works with Upper School leadership to share insights and further understanding in matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion. The group, which held its first meeting in January, comprises 16 Upper School students (four students per grade) who are representative of the student body with regard to race, color, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. They’ve discussed topics such as increasing diversity in admissions and hiring, creating more inclusive course content, bolstering campus affinity groups and understanding how the Upper School responds to incidents of bias.

The group seeks to be a “change agent” in the Upper School and beyond, said SDAC president Delaney Washington ’22, who worked with Horton to form the council. Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs Justin Brandon and Assistant Head of Upper School for Student Leadership Kat Belk serve as meeting facilitators.

Delaney and her family have long been advocates of diversity and inclusion at Ravenscroft. In 2013, her parents co-founded the Crosby-Washington Diversity and Inclusion Fund, which supports DE&I training at Ravenscroft, including efforts by the volunteer-led Parents Supporting Diversity and Inclusion. “Diversity and inclusion is about everyone, not just marginalized groups on campus,” Delaney said. “Ravenscroft isn’t afraid of big issues and conversations, because what’s happening in terms of race, gender and equality all around the world is a part of learning.”

Members of the Student Diversity Advisory Committee include (front) Olivia Rivera ’25, Simone Baldwin ’22, Savanna Gardner ’25, Lauren Hayes ’23, Rowan Thomas ’23, Ethan Silverman ’25; (middle) Tul Cherukuri ’24, Zora Mourning ’24, Delaney Washington ’22, Anthony Melvin ’22, Montana Ramakrishnan ’23, Rachel Mason ’22, Jai Gupta ’25; (back) Aryan Ghodrat ’24, Garrett Hill ’23, advisor Lisa Horton, Nyles Steele ’24, advisor Justin Brandon.


“To have a forum where students can talk about issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging — not just with themselves but with Upper School leadership — is unique,” Brandon said. “Students ask some pointed questions, but it’s important that they feel comfortable asking those in a safe space.”

“We are here to put our students first and to engage with them. Creating a space where students’ voices can be heard in sharing joys, concerns and ideas, that’s what makes this exciting,” Belk added. “There’s a lot of good and honest conversation going on.”

 

Ravens of all ages enjoy the food, games and community spirit of the PA’s Spring Festival, held April 29.

Supporting the School Community: Changes to Parent-Group Governance and Structure

Ravenscroft’s parent-led volunteer groups are also taking steps to embrace difference and work toward positive change.

Following the Parents’ Association’s decision last fall to provide funding for PSDI, a fellow parent organization whose mission is to promote diversity and inclusion through awareness and outreach, PA leaders are working with Ravenscroft staff to formally change the group’s structure to make it more reflective of the community’s diverse perspectives. In February, the PA voted to expand its executive committee to include the leadership of both PSDI and Global Parent Ambassadors, which through a global perspective works to nurture relationships among not just international families but all families at Ravenscroft. The leaders of the school’s two other parent groups — the Fine Arts Association and the Ravens Athletic Club, which, like the PA, are governed by the Board of Trustees — are also joining the PA’s executive committee as ex-officio members. The expansion will become official in January 2023.

Parent-group leaders Tamara Hayes, Felecia Hughey and Courtney Stafford participate in a Lead From Here workshop led by CCL and Ravenscroft faculty trainers.

Outgoing PA co-presidents Aeri Meyers and Felecia Hughey, at right, pass the ceremonial gavel to 2022-23’s leaders, Tamara Hayes and Tracey Zola.


PSDI president Tamara Hayes — who will serve as co-president of the PA in 2022-23 — applauds the move. “For PSDI to sit on the executive committee and have the input to steer things in a favorable direction is great. We can also further our reach, now that we have the funding to plan programming and activities,” she said.

“The move also allows the parent groups to streamline activities and communication so we can be more purposeful and intentional,” GPA president Valeska Redmond said.

PA co-president Felecia Hughey agreed. “It’s good for these groups to have a seat at the table and be involved in the programming that’s going to be affecting everyone community-wide. Bringing in those different perspectives will be very beneficial to the community.”

In preparation for the work ahead, leaders of these groups got together in May for a Lead From Here workshop, forging bonds and opening communication with the ultimate goal of strengthening the school community.

“All of our parent-led groups have added so much value to our community, and we’re benefiting from that,” Hughey’s co-president, Aeri Meyers, said. “It is our intention to have a shared space for our parent leaders to implement a focused framework for goals, activities and resources and to celebrate the outcomes of all of these collective efforts.”

Members of PSDI meet in the Ravenscroft Welcome Center to discuss Steve Robbins’ “What If?” as part of the group’s book club.


Read more about Ravenscroft’s volunteer-led parent groups in this story from our Fall 2020 issue, “Parent Groups: Connecting and Collaborating.”

 

In the Lower School: Celebrating and exploring
diversity and inclusivity

As part of their work as DE&I coordinators in the Lower School, PreK teacher Lana DuBose and Lower School librarian Jessica Ortolano, working with first-grade teacher Karrah Lewis, share resources with classroom teachers. Subjects they explore include holidays such as Hanukkah, Diwali and Ramadan and various national days of awareness and observance, such as Autism Acceptance Month and Black History Month. They also share thought-provoking questions to engage students.

Many of these topics have been shared through colorful displays that allow all students, faculty and staff in the Lower School to learn about and celebrate difference. Teachers who share with DuBose and Ortolano how they’re incorporating these topics often receive prizes, such as books about that month’s celebrations to add to their classroom libraries.

This spring, the Lower School also offered two new after-school clubs:

      Culture Club: This club helps Ravens in kindergarten through second grade learn about different cultures and their traditions. Students discuss activities to celebrate community and educate their classmates about differences. Lewis led the group, along with Lower School librarian Emily Zeblo, Lower School Spanish teacher Carmen Hernadez and Lower School art teacher Amelia Karpowitz.

      Students of Color Affinity Group: This club brings students in third through fifth grades together over a commonality and helps them feel more visible and included in our community. Students discuss their experiences freely and without inhibition. The group was led by DuBose, Assistant Head of Lower School Steven Mercado, kindergarten teacher Dominique Taylor and PreK teacher Crystal Garris.

“To foster a more inclusive and welcoming community, it is vital to have trusted adults play an enormous role in shaping the community’s attitude,” Ortolano said. “Having a diverse set of students and adults also leads to cross-cultural connections between them. These connections promote growth and reflection, foster empathy, broaden perspectives and teach tolerance (and even acceptance) for all types of backgrounds. This work is constant, ever-changing and vital for our youth and for us as educators.”


After-school clubs were one aspect of the Lower School DE&I committee’s programming this year. Learn more about their work in this slideshow.