High School Students & Teachers Attend Leadership Conferences in St. Louis
Organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the two coinciding events, which are designed for students and educators respectively, are committed to equity and justice in teaching and learning, and explore the diverse experiences of people of color in independent schools. Our high school representatives attended the conferences to gain insight and help educate and inform our students at Oak Grove on issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion.
Student Diversity Leadership Conference
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders from independent high schools across North America. The conference focuses on self-reflection, forming allies, and building community and is 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 allyship and networking principles.
High school students Arianna, Dahlia, and Rubina represented Oak Grove at the SDLC, which took place over two days from 8am to 10pm and 11pm respectively. As trained facilitators the students took part and facilitated a number of workshops and shared that they left the conference feeling very inspired.
“The days were long, and it was a lot, because you had to be very social. But it was also such an amazing experience,” said Arianna. “There was always stuff going on, and they made it really fun. Being around so many people and listening to what other schools are struggling with was incredible – you could relate but also learn things and get new ideas.”
Rubina, who also attended the conference last year, explained that she was especially excited about the affinity spaces provided to students based on their specific racial or ethnic identity, or gender or sexual orientation. “It was a really high energy but safe space to get up and say what you want,” she said. “Everyone felt empowered to share their experience and make themselves vulnerable. I really felt like I had a voice.”
Dahlia agreed and said that she enjoyed the diversity of the activities at the conference and feels excited about bringing some of them back to Oak Grove. “We did some Spectrum activities, which covered both light topics about pop culture and more serious topics like social economics and racial identity,” she said. “I felt that by including more fun topics the group was made to feel more relaxed and that made it easier to talk about the more difficult topics, so I’d like to bring that to Oak Grove.”
“I felt that by including more fun topics the group was made to feel more relaxed and that made it easier to talk about the more difficult topics, so I’d like to bring that to Oak Grove.” -Dahlia, 11th Grade
Arianna added that she would be eager to include not just the high school but younger students in activities as well. “What I learned from this experience is that in order for you to really listen and pay attention it has to start from the beginning,” she said. “So I’d like to introduce the younger kids at Oak Grove to topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion and give them the opportunity to learn about it.”
People of Color Conference
The People of Color Conference (PoCC) meanwhile, which has run for more than 35 years, provides a safe space specifically for people of color in the education sector, and white allies who are building their own accountability. With seminars, guest speakers, and more than 100 workshops and break-out sessions on a variety of topics, the PoCC aims to support educators at all levels – from teachers to consultants and trustees – and provide them with new knowledge and skills.
Oak Grove’s high school Director Russ Bowen and Director of Pastoral Care, School Counselor, and Parent Education Coordinator Ali Danch attended the PoCC.
Russ said there were more than 6,000 people in attendance. “The featured speaker for the big opening session was Dr. Gholnecsar (Gholdy) Muhammad (associate professor of language and literacy at Georgia State University), who was amazing,” he said. “She spoke about genius, joy, and justice: the genius of all students, bringing joy into everything we do in the classroom, and justice for all. It was very inspiring.”
“She spoke about genius, joy, and justice: the genius of all students, bringing joy into everything we do in the classroom, and justice for all. It was very inspiring.”
– Russ Bowman, Director of the High High School
Ali added that conferencegoers joined different affinity groups based on their specific racial or ethnic identity, with white and European attendees joining an awareness and accountability group. “This accountability group provided space for me to meet others with shared values of equity in education, and for us to develop our own action plans for further integrating this awareness into movement,” she explained.
“I can’t stop thinking about Liza Talusan’s concept of the “identity-conscious educator,” which is an educator who understands how their own identity shapes the way that they show up during the day. It speaks to a responsibility to ensure that the identities of all students and staff are being centered, rather than just my own.”