“The task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute.” -- John Dewey
How can diversity be more than a buzzword? It is easy to claim to be a diverse, accepting community, but how can a community embody and celebrate the unique qualities of its members? During a two-day intensive workshop at the end of February, thirty-eight 10th and 11th grade students took time out of the school day to work with Dr. Corey Olds to wrestle with self identity, racial theory, diversity, and John Dewey’s idea of “creative democracy.” Dr. Olds is curriculum coordinator at Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, and in 2009 he founded the Excelsus Foundation, an educational trust which is “actively engaged in narrowing the achievement gap between so-called privileged and less-privileged students, as well as providing extensive academic support and mentoring to African-American boys.”
Since last year, Head of Upper School Peggy Procter and Diversity Coordinator Alesia Young had wanted to expand discussions of diversity at Windward. “Diversity is a big word that we’ve had the hardest time defining,” said Alesia. Together, Alesia, Peggy and Dr. Olds created a workshop for students aimed at exploring diversity and fostering student leaders. By the end of the workshop, participants drafted a manifesto of collective commitments and an action plan for bringing the work back to the rest of the Windward community.
How did students respond to the workshop? “As a student of color it was really helpful to be able to open up and share my thoughts to students going to through the same things, and feeling the same way,” said junior Kelsey R. “I never knew any of the other students of color felt the the same frustration as me. I also found it very helpful that at the end we were given a chance to express how we felt to the rest of the leadership students at the workshop. I think it opened up a lot of their eyes, and I hope we can follow up with this, with even more people!”
After the workshop, many students contacted Alesia to ask, “What’s next?” Alesia commented, “I’ve never seen such an immediate response from students to a workshop like this.”
What are the next steps for this work? Alesia, with the support of Dr. Olds and leadership of juniors Kelsey R. and Jamie H., is launching Cafe Talks -- a series of student-led discussions that will tackle issues of diversity. Four Cafe Talks are in the works this May with plans to continue into next year.
Find out more about Dr. Olds and the workshop here: http://www.excelsusfoundation.com/excelsus/For_Windward_School.html