Part of the evolution of The Country School's Global Citizenship effort requires looking in the mirror. As the school seeks to create students who are culturally competent, how does it foster diversity, equity, and inclusion? How does the school community counter the "isms," such as racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and ageism? In the most recent Global Citizenship conversation, we focus on Jade Walker '93 and her work in racial justice.
The last time we saw Jade Walker '93 on campus was nine years ago, when she joined us to receive the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award. At the time, Jade was running Mill Creek Farm, the urban educational farm she and a friend founded in West Philadelphia to provide fresh, locally grown produce, build a healthy community and environment, and promote a just and sustainable food system. (At right, Jade speaks to Country School students in 2010.)
The farm's efforts are community-based, providing public workshops on topics such as beekeeping and solar power installation, hosting community workdays, and field trips for all ages, PK-College age. The farm's land is adjacent to a long-standing thriving community garden as well.
The farm is still in operation and, going on its 14th year, is now being run under the direction of community members. A few years back, Jade moved to Vermont, where she received her MA in Education and School Counseling from Goddard College (she received her BA in English and Environmental Science from the University of Vermont), and she currently serves as a Middle School counselor at a public school. A member of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools, she has an extensive background in social, environmental, and racial justice initiatives with young people. In addition to a slew of other undertakings in the social justice realm, she has done family and child-centered policy and advocacy work and facilitated student activism workshops as well as anti-racist parenting and teaching workshops focused on how to talk with children about racism.
As The Country School continues to expand and deepen its global citizenship initiative, we reached out to Jade to see if she could lead a professional development session for teachers and administrators. Fortunately, Jade was amenable, and in early August, she led a team of educators through a rich, two-hour discussion about race and racism and how students can be engaged in honest conversations on the subject in ways that foster equity and inclusion, honor everyone's unique experience, and empower children to speak up when they see an injustice occur. The conversation, conducted over ZOOM (see below), allowed Jade to join us from her home in Vermont, while teachers either gathered collectively in Robinson House and/or joined the conversation virtually.
Before the discussion, all participants listened to a Cornerstone for Teachers podcast about having conversations about race. After a brief introduction, Jade asked participants to share their observations on the podcast. Several said they had gained a new perspective about such topics as white privilege and color blindness. Others said they appreciated having had time to learn more, reflect, and then discuss the issues raised.
Jade offered suggestions for incorporating similar conversations into ongoing routines at school, and teachers brainstormed ways in which they might be able to change their practices going forward. Among the priorities offered by participants were:
- Allowing students to explore their own stories, opening doors to talk about race and personal family legacies.
- Helping make students more aware of their own privilege.
- Continuing this work in a fruitful and productive way, as citizens of the world. "We ask students to stretch; we should too."
- Finding ways to give others a voice.
- Setting aside time and forums where children can share.
- Making space for student-led initiatives.
- Making lessons more transformative and less static.
- Helping students see that being uncomfortable is OK, that the conversation itself is important.
- Giving students and teachers time to reflect and process.
The session with Jade was a continuation of a conversation begun at the start of the last school year, when Keith Hinderlie (at right), Director of Equity and Inclusion at Choate Rosemary Hall, joined all members of the faculty, administration and staff for a professional development conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Over the course of the year, several teachers participated in professional development workshops on the subject, from programs offered by the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools to conferences or workshops with Teaching Tolerance, Facing History and Ourselves, Columbia University, and African Leadership Academy.
This summer, teachers and administrators selected one of five books to read for an all-faculty book discussion focusing on equity and inclusion. The conversation will continue this fall, when Margaret Hagerman, a sociology professor and author, will join us for a talk about White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, one of the five books teachers selected to read and discuss. (Stay tuned for details.)
Of course, all of these conversations echo smaller conversations taking place on campus throughout the year and occurring in a more in-depth way during our annual IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Empathy, Action) Day. As a result of our recent conversations, watch for IDEA work to be extended, with opportunities for parents to join in as we celebrate and explore diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus and in our world in purposeful ways throughout the year.
As Dr. Hinderlie told teachers when he visited campus a year ago, "Make this work personal and important, even when there are challenges. Our job is to prepare kids to be adults in a diverse world. They require cultural competency."
Jade shared a similar message with teachers this summer. One of four Walker siblings who attended The Country School, Jade said she grew up immersed in the Jewish tradition of "Tikkun Olam," translated from the Hebrew to "repair the world." When she graduated from college and began working in a school in Philadelphia, it was an incredibly eye-opening and humbling experience as she gained a true understanding of the impact of systemic inequity. "I realized there was a different way to be a white person and I needed to do better," Jade said, and she set out to educate herself.
Now she is sharing what she has learned with others. Thank you, Jade, for sharing your learning with us.