Over the last 12 months, the board, faculty, and staff at The Children’s School started a new journey. We began investing more time and resources toward achieving greater equity – specifically racial and ethnic equity – in delivering education and opportunity within our TCS community. In an equitable community, each person is seen and valued, with acknowledgment of differences and their impacts.
We decided to keep our focus on equity for students and families of diverse racial and ethnic groups, acknowledging that in the future we would examine whether we could expand our equity work for those who are differently abled, or have a wider range of learning needs that fall outside of those we can currently meet.
We know we have talked the right talk and have always had good intentions. Our progressive education philosophy also has strong potential to foster greater equity through its reliance on democratic process, honoring all voices, and incorporating social justice.
In some ways, we’re doing a good job: We have a written social justice curriculum, with grade level curricular goals around identity, bias, and power, as well as privilege, dominant and non-dominant cultural traits; also, in all our democratic processes, we provide safeguards so that all voices are heard. We do this by including ways to honor minority views such as asking, "Can you live with it?" after a vote is taken and the majority has "won." Historically in our school that question has frequently resulted in the overturn of majority decisions.
But we also know that the composition of our student body, faculty, board, and staff don’t reflect the level of diversity represented in our local communities. Feedback from families and students of color also challenges and encourages us to look deeper for how we could truly deliver an environment that embraces and supports them in ways we may have overlooked.
In launching the TCS Equity Working Group last year, we committed ourselves to establishing new policies and procedures at all levels of our organization to provide greater equity in student recruitment, hiring practices, educational opportunities, social-emotional support, and in our communication and interaction with the surrounding community.
Our working group also sensed that we need to challenge and root out myopic assumptions based on our own collective culture of privilege – one that is predominantly white and affluent. These assumptions can easily obscure what equity in our educational setting should or could look like if we only listen to our own voices in an echo-chamber. That’s why on this journey, we knew we needed help!
In addition to internal working group meetings to hammer out definitions, policy language, and examine where we were starting from and where we needed to go, we brought on two consultants who have helped us immensely.
In 2018-2019, we brought in Reesheda Graham Washington, CEO of RGW Consulting (left) and founder of L!VE Café, who led both our faculty and board in a series of workshops. She facilitated not only deeply challenging conversations on how inequity and privilege play out in the real world, but also led us in a series of interactive exercises we used to explore how our own individual and group conceptions of race, equity, privilege, and our circles of influence were unconsciously limiting our progress toward greater equity.
The Children’s School continues to work with Ms. Graham Washington, who leads the Race Equity & Education Cohort of Oak Park. (Read the most recent newsletter from the cohort here.) Christina Martin and Pamela Freese of TCS joined and participate in the Cohort along with representatives from the Oak Park Library and school districts 97 and 200.
In 2019, we also began working with Dr. Ayanna F. Brown (right), a professor at Elmhurst College, who is both a TCS parent and an equity educator. Dr. Brown is taking a hands-on approach with our TCS Equity Working Group and our Board of Directors, with surveys, workshops, and consulting designed to help us create action steps to not only increase equity at TCS but to also broaden our scope on what equity in an educational setting looks like.
The Children’s School is also welcoming parents to participate in this collective journey. In addition to sending a survey to parents from Dr. Brown, TCS invites parents to a conversation on our TCS Equity Initiative on Thursday, September 26th, at 7:00 p.m., to hear the results of the survey and discuss next steps our community should take in our equity work. All TCS families are invited and encouraged to participate.
We’re also evaluating how our current “JUST Dream” committee and its activities throughout the year might evolve as our equity conversation evolves.
With these foundations laid, we hope to deliver periodic updates and demonstrate measurable progress toward equity in our educational recruitment, hiring, institutional policies, purchasing, and social environment.
Join us and bring your voice to helping us become the model we aspire to be as a leader in the field of progressive education.