Mental health, politics and race. These are just some of the topics that students at The Roeper School, located in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, discuss at their annual Diversity Day event.
This day of workshops, which are all dedicated to candid conversations about a variety of hot-button topics, is just one example of the commitment that The Roeper School has to equipping students with the tools they need to increase their cultural competency.
“We think of ways to empower our students, let them have leadership,” says Carolyn Lett, Director of Diversity and Community programs with The Roeper School. “(We) talk more about inclusion, who’s not at the table and how you bring in those voices.”
These efforts help shape the future thinkers and leaders that The Roeper School is educating – from the youngest grades up through high school.
And that’s by design. The faculty and administration at The Roeper School have worked hard to introduce conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion – topics that can oftentimes be overlooked in the classroom – to students. These topics are woven into the curriculum and celebrated through the Student Diversity Advisory Committee and professional development.
“When we are trying to change anything, we start with education and the young,” Lett says. “We are constantly talking about it.”
Here’s a closer look at how The Roeper School commits to nurturing cultural competency in its students.
National SEED Project
The teaching staff at The Roeper School benefits from participating in the National SEED Project, which was founded by Dr. Peggy McIntosh in 1987.
SEED, which stands for “seeking educational equity and diversity,” is a peer-led professional development program driving change toward equity and inclusion.
“It’s a way of looking at yourself inside out,” Lett says. In other words: What lens am I viewing the world through? Who is sitting at the table? Who’s not? These are just some of the questions staff might themselves ask during the series of SEED sessions.
Being part of the project, which requires teachers to attend special training, was a no-brainer. “This program fit so well,” Lett says.
In 2007, The Roeper School staff signed on to participate. By 2009, the program was opened up to parents.
The SEED program urges teachers to examine their own viewpoints, to personally reflect, and to listen to other people’s opinions on topics. By doing so, teachers grow to understand their own biases and evaluate what they’re presenting to their students in order for each student to feel included.
“It’s a self-reflective process that you go through,” says Sara Mendez, one of Roeper’s Lower School art teachers. “As you work through who you are, that helps you understand more about what ideas you’re carrying with you about who other people are.”
And this directly impacts what teachers bring to their students.
In her classroom, Mendez exposes her students to a variety of art that extends beyond Picasso and Michelangelo.
“I try to be intentional about making sure that every kid has an opportunity to see themselves in what we are doing in art class,” Mendez says. “And I’ve tried really hard to highlight a lot of artists that are women and people of color.”
This year, students have examined experimental jazz musician Sun Ra for a headdress project along with Gwen Frostic for nature drawings and printmaking projects.
“Free Choice workshops – that some, but not all children may choose to attend – have introduced children to architect Zaha Hadid, painter Frida Kahlo, fashion designers Ann Lowe and Coco Chanel, and singer Ella Fitzgerald,” Mendez adds.
These lessons in inclusion also extend to physical activity and safety – thanks to the Make-a-Splash program hosted by Roeper.
Children from lower-income families and those from African-American, Latino, and Hispanic backgrounds are at a higher risk of drowning, studies find. Less than 10 percent of children in non-swimming African-American and Latino families learn how to swim.
In an effort to break the generational cycle of non-swimmers in diverse communities, The Roeper School teamed up with the USA Swimming Foundation back in 2010 to institute the Make-a-Splash Roeper Project.
Students from lower-income families learn to swim through personalized instruction during this summer camp, which has welcomed over 600 students to date.
The Roeper School is currently putting together a multicultural leadership team, which will launch in the 2019-20 school year, Lett says.
This team is an advisory and action group of both faculty and administration, which will be designed by division – Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School. The team will help guide programming and policies to ensure that the school is culturally competent, intentionally inclusive, and socially just.
“It is ongoing work,” Lett says, “and the responsibility rests upon each and every one of us in this community.”
For more information on The Roeper School, visit The Roeper School’s website.