At the beginning of December, Stone Ridge School sent six educators; along with Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Ms. Kim Gayle, to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) titled Reunited in Purpose: Elevating Our Worth, Our Agency, Our Excellence. Ms. Gayle describes, “The conference brings together people from all walks of life to focus on best teaching and learning practices, leadership skills, and learn from excellent educational speakers from the DEIJB community.” Over three days, attendees participate in seminars, workshops, and master classes to learn how to improve the intercultural climate at schools to positively impact academic, social-emotional, and workplace dynamics across school communities.
This year’s conference featured speakers like Amanda Nguyen, CEO of Rise and an avid social entrepreneur and civil rights advocate who has served at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the White House; Shakil Choudhury, an award-winning educator and author of Deep Diversity: A Compassionate, Scientific Approach to Achieving Racial Justice; and José Luis Vilson, veteran educator, writer, speaker, activist, and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education. Ms. Gayle particularly enjoyed speaker author and poet Nikki Giovanni, connecting to her formative years reading and studying Giovanni’s works. She often incorporates books such as I Am Loved in her read-aloud sessions for children exploring identity, connection, and belonging.
Attendees from Stone Ridge, including Middle School Dean of Students Mr. Rick Westerkamp, Upper School History teacher Ms. Carra Gaines, Upper School Assistant Dean of Students Ms. DeShauna Curry, Administrative Assistant to the College Office Ms. Brianna Allen, Middle School French Teacher Ms. Mina Ouakrim, and Upper School Math Teacher Ms. Reyhaneh Khaze, many of whom were participating for the first time, returned refreshed and excited to implement new strategies and best practices in DEI.
Mr. Rick and Ms. Allen were inspired by new ways to enhance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in their work. Mr. Rick was “moved” by a session that focused on fostering belonging in the classroom during less structured times and by what the “presenters shared regarding affinity spaces in middle school,” he says. “I was grateful for my Stone Ridge community as I imagined ways this work could be done, rooted in the Goals & Criteria,” he concluded. Attending a workshop on college counseling, Ms. Allen gained insight as to how to enrich the college process for her students, noting that “these sessions equipped me with the knowledge and resources available to create a curriculum that dives into the history of higher education in the US while bringing DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) into the fold.”
Connecting to her transnational identity, Ms. Ouakrim sought a more global perspective from the conference. Growing up in Morocco, a former French colony, she recalls witnessing drastic changes in schools. “Most of the countries that were occupied had started the decolonization of their curriculum and switched back their official language to their mother tongues.” PoCC highlighted much of the work happening in the US; however, it missed making connections to DEI work happening across the globe, she noted. Ms. Ouakrim seeks to uplift the needs of transnational students in conversations at Stone Ridge and to foster feelings of belonging and a passion for justice for students in her classroom.
PoCC provides professional development and is highly regarded for personal growth and as a place of spiritual healing for many. For Ms. Curry and Ms. Gaines, the conference reminded them to value their life experience and regard it as a unique expression of who they are. “Growth occurs when you stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone,” says Ms. Curry, reflective of the spirit of Goal V. Ms. Gaines was reminded that self-care alongside growth and performance is crucial to enable her to perform her best work.
Ms. Khaze was most inspired by speakers who emphasized our common humanity and spoke on themes of modesty and humility. “My experience at PoCC was intense with a range of mixed emotions. It was all about connection, learning, and a commitment to make a meaningful impact.”
Each year, students’ needs increase for experienced DEI professionals to pave the way towards gaining essential cultural competency skills in an ever-changing global society. PoCC ensures DEI remains front and center for generations by highlighting critical work performed across the nation. As an educational, transformative, and uplifting experience for attendees, the benefits of PoCC continue to reach beyond its occasion.