The Chestnut Hill School’s theme for 2017-2018 school year is Sharing Our Stories. No wonder then, that in honor of Black History Month, CHS welcomed storyteller, Valerie Tutson, to a gathering of the CHS community.
Ms. Tutson has been telling stories in schools, churches, libraries, festivals and conferences for over 20 years. She received a degree in Theater Arts from Brown University, so her stories include song, props, and movement ‘so that the message is felt in one’s bones.’ Her presentation at CHS began with everyone singing “Ndza kondwa Moni” , which translated means “I see you. I respect you” and is the customary greeting in Chichewa, the native language of Malawians.
A story from Liberia, a country in West Africa, explained the meaning and value of a horse’s tail. Ms. Tutson then returned to the United States and a tiny town called Eatonville, Florida, where the young Zora Neale Hurston collected stories from her elders. These formed the basis for her first collection, Mules and Men.
The Family Association’s FOCUS committee, along with DEI Advocate Carlos Hoyt, organized this cultural event. FOCUS –Families of Color United for Success – works to provide circles of support within the CHS community by hosting potlucks and discussion groups, advocating for hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff, and providing materials and suggestions about curriculum so that every culture’s stories can be shared and sung.
There are many Black History month events throughout the Boston area including the Living In Colors/Celebrating Black Life at the Boston Children’s Museum as well as Picturing Frederick Douglass at the Museum of African American History
At CHS 2nd grade teachers weave social studies, art and diversity, equity and inclusion topics all in one lesson! The students have been reading I Look Like a Girl by Sheila Hamanaka. Published in 1999, the book includes rhyming text accompanied by brightly colored illustrations. These pictures show girls “engaging in typical childhood activities, (while) imagining a life as free and wild as a tiger, dolphin, mustang, condor or wolf.”
Using this book as inspiration, students discussed the concept of visible identities, particularly those that do not accurately reflect how we think of ourselves. Gender is one way assumptions are made about who we are and is one of the strands of social identity. Other strands include heritage and belief systems. The book and subsequent discussion encouraged students to question the complexities of visible identities and resist the impulse to judge others based on outward appearance.
The 2nd graders then used oil pastels on black paper to show their understanding of the limitations of gender categories and stereotypes and imagining themselves as a rabbit, bear, or a turtle.
This week The Chestnut Hill School hosted the Parents Independent School Network (PIN) in a lively and informative discussion on the State of Diversity Education and Enrichment in our Schools. Dr. Carlos Hoyt, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advocate at CHS, invited participants to imagine shifting the discourse on diversity from identity politics silos to a comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative understanding of social identity, social bias, and social justice.
The CHS DEI Curriculum Initiative was introduced as an example of efforts to create pedagogy that enables and empowers students to explore and embrace their whole “personhood”, while being aware of the ways in which personhood is assigned to social identity categories.
Dr. Hoyt highlighted the efforts of CHS teacher to infuse their teaching with material that provides mirrors for students of all backgrounds and windows into different ways of life. And he presented the seven strands of identity upon which the DEI Curriculum will focus:
Heritage, Physical Appearance, Ability, Gender and Sexual Orientation, Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Worldview.
The room buzzed with energy and excitement when Dr. Hoyt invited each table group to discuss the state of diversity education, and what parents hope their children are learning about this topic in this day and age.
Deb Bloomberg, a member of the CHS Support Team, summarized the meeting’s success. “Carlos highlighted the amazing work being done in our classrooms, and our ongoing commitment as a community to diversity, equity and justice. I felt really proud of CHS.”
On Thursday, October 13th, CHS hosted this year’s AISNE Diversity Consortium dinner and panel discussion.The Consortium was created to serve as a resource for African American and Hispanic/Latino families who are interested in learning more about independent schools and how these schools can benefit their children.
Prospective families mingled with current parents and heard from representatives from various independent schools.The independent school panelists consisted of Cynthia Harmon, Head of The Park School; Dr. Michelle Sanchez, parent and Board Member of The Fessenden School; Bridget Terry Long, parent and Board Member of Buckingham Browne & Nichols; and Julian Braxton, alumni parent, Board Member of The Chestnut Hill School, and the Director of Multicultural Affairs at the Winsor School; and was moderated by Nicole DuFauchard, Head of The Advent School.
Ms. DuFauchard opened the discussion by asking the panel: What brought you to independent schools and why do you stay? Although the specifics of each family’s journey differed, all agreed that independent schools draw from broader communities so that the pool of students includes ethnic, cultural and socio-economic diversity.This “deliberate diversity” is reflected in classrooms that embrace and celebrate all children.
Panelist Dr. Sanchez described how important it is that children of color, in particular, have voice and agency, along with their fellow classmates. She went on to explain, “(at independent schools) there is engagement, thoughtful engagement, and partnership with parents instead of being held at arms’ length.” Other panel members concurred and described environments where parents and teachers work together to achieve the best outcomes for children.
The evening also provided guests with insights into the outstanding academic resources and curricula offered by independent schools. Independent schools educate the whole child with the visual arts, music, and athletics available to all. Panelist Ms. Long commented that, “Independent schools cater to different learning styles and personalities. The “default” is a commitment to having each and every child thrive, and teachers have the right resources at their fingertips in order to make that happen.”
One final question asked of the panelists, “what parents should look for when evaluating an independent school?” Ms. Harmon recommended that, “if your child is under age 10, look for joy. Joy, curiosity, excitement and wonder. Listen for it as soon as you walk in the door. For children older than 10, seek joy and rigor. There should be meaningful work taking place in the classrooms.”
The panel segment of the evening concluded with a reference to the ‘elephant in the room’, the expense associated with independent schools. Ms. DuFauchard again emphasized that value of an independent school education. She also assured attendees that schools work with each family to provide competitive financial aid packages that may be challenging, but doable.
Other schools in attending the diversity dinner were Brimmer & May, Cambridge Friends School, Cambridge Montessori School, Fessenden School, and Shady Hill School. Along with BB&N, The Advent School, the Park School, and The Chestnut Hill School. All these schools share the value proposition of the AISNE Diversity Consortium, which reads in part –
An independent school fosters self-confidence, resilience and intellectual curiosity in an ethnically and culturally diverse environment where learning is joyful and students are empowered to think critically and reach their full potential. Academic excellence, service learning, an emphasis on global citizenship, intellectual engagement and leadership are all important aspects of our programs…Through a variety of curricular and extracurricular opportunities, many of which are geared towards inclusivity and social justice, independent schools are able to promote and build intellectual, social, emotional, and character development in students…(by having) smaller class sizes, our children establish and develop connections among a cohort of peers who share similar educational goals and who help to set the foundation for future success and accomplishment.