By Tina Jenkins Bell
BAPA School Liaison
Diversity is a multifaceted term, according to Dr. Carole Rene’ Collins-Ayanlaja. It is the practice of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and even learning styles.
“There are so many components within education where diversity can be applied: student demographics, instructional practices, curriculum options, and others,” Dr. Collins-Ayanlaja said. This school year, Dr. Collins-Ayanlaja conducted two diversity workshops, the last one occurred on the evening of Feb. 11 for the Hive, a collaborative team of five principals from Barnard, Clissold, Kellogg, Sutherland, and Vanderpoel elementary schools.
Sutherland School Principal Margaret Burns believes the need to interact across cultures, races, and other differences, particularly in schools, is important for the progress of all students.
“This means that it is a community effort with shared goals and outcomes. The workshops have been equity–based, focusing on implicit bias, identity, and now diversity. It started with just Sutherland and then branched out to include our 19th ward partner schools, with a lens on full community involvement in educating ourselves in establishing a culture of equity,” Burns said.
Kellogg School Principal Corey Overstreet added, “We live and work in a diverse community, but there are not many opportunities for everyone to come together to have these types of conversations, especially not across five schools and with community members.”
The workshop provided a platform for hosting cross-community conversations about diversity and equity. School leaders were able to demonstrate and share the various ways they ensured their students, staff, and faculty, not only respected the differences among their school populations but also incorporated those variations into their schools’ cultures and curriculum. For example, during Black History month, Sutherland students participated in the Unsung Heroes curriculum. This curriculum introduced students to myriad Black history makers and challenged students to locate the commonalities in goals and values they shared with Black history makers.
“Our goal is to bridge understanding and empathy within our community, which, in turn, supports our schools and our children,” Burns said.
As for the workshop’s priorities, Dr. Collins-Ayanlaja said, “The skills young people develop by studying these standards support their ability to exercise sound reasoning and distinguish right from wrong. They … choose to be good citizens and community members.”
Beyond the diversity workshops, a next step will be for principals to share with the greater community their commitment for ensuring a climate of anti-racism and non-bias.
“They want to build a high level of cohesion with parents that supports engagement and prepares families to best partner in the quest for equity and access for all the children of the Hive,” said Dr. Collins-Ayanlaja. She also prepares Illinois candidates for principal and superintendent positions with a focus on leadership, race, and education.