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Aug 21, 2019 10:04 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sag Harbor School Diversity and Inclusion Committee Gears Up For Another Busy Year

Dr. Oliver Robinson, the superintendent of Shenendehowa Central School District in Albany and New York State superintendent of the year, was one of the guest speakers on Friday.  ELIZABETH VESPE
Aug 21, 2019 12:09 PM

When Joan Dudley’s daughter, Alexandra, graduated from the Sag Harbor School District and began college at Emerson College in Boston, one of the requirements was to take a class about diversity, including various cultures, gender roles, and becoming aware of unconscious bias. The idea: It’s becoming more and more important for students to become well-rounded individuals and understand the diverse communities that make up the world.

The Sag Harbor district’s newly appointed Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which began in 2017 as a subcommittee to the Nutrition and Wellness Committee, was formally incorporated this past January after a group of community members, including Joan Dudley, pitched the idea to the district. It has been continuing to educate the community and children about culture, gender roles, poverty, and other tough issues.

The committee, co-chaired by Superintendent of Schools Katy Graves and Sag Harbor Elementary School Assistant Principal Betty Reynoso, has worked to educate the students and community about diversity, whether it be writing up bilingual menu boards in the cafeterias, taking the students on culturally diverse field trips, or hosting lectures regarding race, culture, gender and other issues.

“We got together as a community before we approached the school,” Ms. Dudley explained on Friday, August 16, in the auditorium of Pierson High School before a cultural proficiency lecture hosted by the committee began. “We cannot graduate our students out of here without having that cultural perspective. Kids going off to college have to be able to handle that cultural mix.”

The committee began with the goal of encouraging inclusion and empathy, while at the same time promoting personal growth for all 950 students in the district. That can be accomplished by making students and faculty more attuned to diversity by challenging stereotypes and preconceptions; encouraging critical thinking; and strengthening the community and school through education about the LGBTQ community, immigrants, students with special learning needs, those who experience poverty, and others.

Ms. Ross said their biggest push was to become an independent and freestanding committee. “It was a big deal for us because it gave us the green light to move forward and have our agenda on the forefront,” she said, adding that the Board of Education is standing behind and supporting their endeavors.

“It gives me goosebumps,” Ms. Reynoso added of the positive turnout to the Friday lecture, and the positive feedback the committee has been receiving from the students and community.

This year, especially with the search for a new superintendent — Ms. Graves is set to retire in January 2020 — the goal is to incorporate decisions through the lens of diversity and inclusion with the district’s programming, hiring practices and policies.

In addition, for the 2019-20 school year, the committee plans to incorporate topics like Stonewall — a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against police raids in 1969, which launched the drive for equal rights for the community — into the curriculum.

“We’re looking at what we’re doing with our students. To fully embrace diversity and inclusion, it’s about the whole community,” Ms. Dudley added.

The committee also has partnerships with local organizations, which the committee calls their “safe partners,” including the Children’s Museum of the East End, the John Jermain Library, the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, and Organización Latino-Americana (OLA), an advocacy group for the Latino community on the East End, among others.

The committee plans to get more young, white students involved in community events at places such as the Eastville Historical Society, which is housed in an 1830s church, built by African-American and Native American men and women, and is believed to have been a stop along the Underground Railroad.

In addition, the committee would like to see the district add field trips relevant to diversity and inclusion, to places like Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, which was a European settler plantation from 1652 that had slaves. Ms. Dudley said that many students are unaware that slavery was present in the local community.

“You can live in a community that’s predominantly white, and there are things that you can do culturally,” she added.

Dr. Oliver Robinson, the superintendent of Shenendehowa Central School District in Albany and New York State superintendent of the year, was one of the guest speakers on Friday. Dr. Robinson spoke about being the first black superintendent of his district, how he incorporates diversity into his district and efforts to understand bias.

“How can I challenge my own biases to ensure that I’m doing the right things for the kids?” Dr. Robinson asked a crowded group. “Education is supposed to be a positive experience. How do we ensure that we truly have a dream plan for every child?”

He said that in his district, they touch upon intraracial and interracial teachings, exposing children to their own race and culture, in addition to others.

Along with that idea, the committee will incorporate diverse literature into the classrooms and libraries, along with hosting free movie nights at the John Jermain Library, which will be open to the public.

Previously, the committee hosted a showing of “Miss Representation,” a documentary about Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem and others, that discussed sexism in American society and the media. In October, they’ll be showing “He Named Me Malala,” which is a documentary about the young Pakistani female activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, who spoke out for the rights of girls, especially through education.

“We hope to have a nice diverse group of topics,” Bobbie Cohen, another committee member added.

Within the next year, they’ll be adding more students to the committee, including middle schoolers, as some of the former members have graduated and work with the student council to formulate programs aimed at the kids.

The committee has been hosting public lectures regarding professional development, poverty, race, cultural proficiency and women in leadership, and they’ll continue that throughout the year.

“It’ll keep the conversation going and keep the community engaged,” Ms. Dudley said of what they have planned for this upcoming school year.

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