One of the most valued parts of our school's mission statement is the commitment to creating a culture in which you can “be yourself.” After 15 years of being part of the Terrapin community, I am still amazed at how much we embrace, and take pride in, the rich diversity of our student body and their families. Often times when people hear the word “diversity", they limit its meaning to race and ethnicity. While that is part of the equation, it is not the whole of it. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has historically recognized the “Big Eight” categories of social identifiers as ability (mental and physical), age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status/class, but more recently NAIS has begun, like us, to recognize that the work towards a more fully inclusion community includes these and much more.
While helping to create a safe and supportive learning environment is an essential function of all educators, actively building and sustaining a culture in which all students can truly be themselves is a primary focus of Prep’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. In the Fall 2018 issue of NAIS Independent magazine, Jesse Gillispie, a trustee at the Peninsula School in Menlo Park, California, and professor of social justice at UC Santa Cruz, wrote about the challenges faced within independent schools.
“Despite increased efforts to create and sustain diverse learning communities, independent schools often fall short of building communities that are also equitable and inclusive. Merely attracting and admitting students and families with diverse backgrounds and experiences doesn’t necessarily lead to the equitable and inclusive environments we desire. Diversity and inclusion consultant Verna Myers explains that diversity is receiving an invitation to a dance, equity is possessing the resources to attend, and inclusion is being asked to dance. Our equity goals must focus on the pursuit of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent full participation. Our inclusion goals must center on creating environments in which any individual or group is and feels welcomed, respected, and valued enough to participate fully.”
Diversity is a fact at Prep. We are a community made up of people from many different backgrounds and identities. We strive to be equitable in providing equal access to opportunities and resources. However, as a community, we must continually and intentionally work towards assuring an inclusive community. For faculty, this includes developing one’s own sense of cultural competency that includes an awareness of racial microaggressions, identity, social differences, and economic inequality, as well as developing strong relationships with various diversity and inclusion-related groups in the school and being responsive to diversity and equity-related issues among the student body as they arise. At Prep, there are many opportunities for faculty, students, and parents to engage and to be a support.
There are several student clubs focused on issues of social justice and equality. These include Culture Shock!, Promoting Equity, Social Justice, and Inclusion, Common Ground , STAND, The Female Body, Teen Court, and Politics at Prep.
Each month Donald Morrison, Dean of Faculty, facilitates optional Diversity Conversations. These gatherings are open to any employee of Tampa Prep. Race and gender were the two topics of past years. This year’s theme will be ability, both physical and mental. Sarah Johnson and Jen Greseth, our Academic Support Counselors, will assist in facilitating some of these conversations.
Tampa Prep is a founding member of the Central Florida Diversity Cohort. This is a group of FCIS member schools who have come together to support one another in providing opportunities for professional development and school programming, as well as engaging students and adult allies in workshops that focus on self-reflection, student leadership development, and community building. Faculty, staff, and parents are welcome to attend meetings and contribute to this dynamic collaborative group. If you are interested in participating in this group, please contact Enaye Englenton (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) and Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC)
“The NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.” Teaching faculty may apply for funding to attend this conference. Some recent past attendees include Scott Sandoval (English, Upper School), Ginger Chapman (Science, Upper School), Kerri Grosso (Science, Middle School), MaryBeth Hill (World and Classical Languages, Upper School), Chrissy Jisha (Academic Dean and Freshmen Class Dean) and Donald Morrison (Dean of Faculty).
In conjunction with the PoCC, NAIS host an annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference. “The NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the U.S. and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of ally-ship and networking principles.” As part of the school’s commitment to sustaining an inclusive community, students are encouraged to apply in the spring to represent Prep at the conference, held each year in early December. Students who are selected commit to serving as part of the Student Diversity Leadership Council at Prep.
As we move forward into the new school year with a commitment to prepare students not only for their future academic and career paths but also for a “life with a higher purpose than self," it is essential that we continue to educate ourselves, and that we equip our students with the tools they will need to not only navigate an ever-increasing diverse world but to be thought leaders and inclusive policymakers.