Christine Savini and Dr. Olivia Morehead-Slaughter Contribute to Bement School’s diversity teaching

We were reminded that we should examine our environment at school and at home to ensure that diversity is represented.

This past spring- late spring after postponement by several snow storms- Bement School hosted a talk by Christine Savini of Diversity Direction and Dr. Olivia Morehead-Slaughter, a Boston psychologist: Morehead-Slaughter and Savini spoke to parents about techniques to help children learn about diversity of all kinds.

The talk and concepts piqued my interest in several ways. First, the how’s and why’s of addressing diversity and tolerance with younger students? And, how does Bement put this kind of presentation, and its ideas, into action?

I spoke with Julia Flannery, Bement’s associate director of admission about Morehead-Slaughter and Savini’s visit as well as diversity teaching at Bement.

What challenges does Bement- a junior boarding school- face in teaching diversity?

As a school, we recognize that the teaching of diversity does not stop with a book or a lesson plan, but that conversations and discussions are ongoing.

A huge asset of the school is the opportunity that Bement provides students to interact and learn from those with a different cultural background. Faculty are encouraged to create meaningful, age-appropriate conversations and experiences to guide students in learning new ways of viewing each other and the world.

We are committed to building an inclusive community of students from all over the US and world. Currently, our boarding students come from eleven different countries and seven different states. Many of these international students come from Korea and China, and as a school, we have selected those countries as themes for our three-week mini-terms in 2011 and 2013. This devoted time of study allowed all students to learn more about those countries and helped make the students from those countries feel celebrated and included in our community.

Our commitment to diversity encourages teachers to think about what text books and literature are used and what resources available to our students in and out of the classroom.

Is teaching diversity and tolerance a core part of Bement’s program? Why are diversity, acceptance and tolerance so important at Bement? Why is it so important to establish diversity and tolerance at an early age?

The model at Bement goes beyond just tolerance and focuses on acceptance, inclusion, respect, and kindness.

From the moment students begin as kindergarteners, they learn to respect differences, and treat each other with thoughtfulness and care.

Bement faculty and staff are invested in creating a more peaceful world in which differences can be understood, and conflicts resolved through meaningful and effective communication. We engage our students in critical thinking from the early ages by asking them to resolve conflicts with peers by expressing their feelings together and finding mutually agreeable solutions.

Students are naturally open and curious at this young age, and it’s a perfect time to instill in them strong values of acceptance.  In the older grades, students are expected to grapple with these interpersonal as well as more global instances of differences and conflict.

Because Bement is a small school and a boarding school, it has a family kind of atmosphere and students are encouraged to get to know each other and treat each other as family…we know that in order to guide our students to be successful and active citizens of the 21st century, they need to know how to interact with diverse populations and thoughtfully engage in discussions around diverse themes.

Do you see yourselves as doing some good things; what might you think about adding/changing to Bement’s diversity teachings?

There is no one way to teach diversity. It is a complex and ever-evolving theme, and each teacher has a different lens and approach that informs his/her teaching.

From the early years, Bement teachers are careful to select and share a range of children’s literature that reveals a variety of cultures and experiences. Also, we hold each of our students to consistently high standards, expecting that each and every Bement student will work to their highest potential.

Through the creation of a diversity committee and a diversity mission statement, Bement is beginning to formalize its commitment to diversity and provide more training and resources for teachers.

These are all great steps towards building a more inclusive school culture. As we are in the process of curriculum mapping, teachers have the opportunity to look at their curriculum through a diversity lens.

Not only have our mini-term themes reflected an array of diverse topics, but there are great units of study that happen throughout the year in both lower and upper school. Music and art classes study artists and composers from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds, the fourth grade Native American unit is taught with great sensitivity to language and individual heritage, and upper school history students examine current and historical events from a social justice framework. Bement always honors Martin Luther King Day with a thoughtful all-school celebration that not only celebrates the legacy of Dr. King, but encourages students to apply his message to their lives today.

Recently, in the upper school, diversity elective has been added, and a small group of 8th and 9th graders have been meeting monthly to discuss topics about gender equality and sexuality. There is also an affinity group for students of color that meets monthly during lunch. Faculty are encouraged to attend diversity workshops and financially supported in order to make these professional development opportunities happen.

Moving forward, we continue to solicit feedback from parents, students, and faculty about how we can be an even more inclusive environment.

What note did faculty/parents/audience take from Morehead-Slaughter and Savini’s visit?

We were reminded that we should examine our environment at school and at home to ensure that diversity is represented.

For example, we should make sure that the pictures on our walls, the books that we choose, and the entertainment that we enjoy, reflect the diversity of not only our community, but also the world at large.  Both parents and faculty were encouraged to “lean in” to any discomfort that we may feel regarding issues of diversity.

While we were discouraged from shutting down uncomfortable conversations, we were reassured that sometimes responding to a child’s question with a simple, “I don’t know, but let me think about it and get back to you,” suffices for an answer as long as we really do make a point to revisit the topic with the child at a later time.  When we do respond, we should be certain that our response is developmentally appropriate.

This event was just the beginning of collaboration between faculty and parents to do the hard, but rewarding work of building a more diverse and inclusive environment for our children and students.

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Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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