By Sarah Dahl
Instituted last year to confront issues of race and diversity through faculty cultural competency training and a faculty-run Diversity Steering Committee (DSC), the Lower School’s (LS) Diversity Initiative is now expanding to host separate training sessions for parents.
According to the force behind the change, Multicultural Parents’ Association (MPA) Co-Chair Joslyne Decker P’26, the trainings are designed to bring awareness and knowledge to majority parents and to equip them to act as diversity change agents with the school’s community. The program for parents already hosted two sessions in January and February, and two more sessions will take place by the year’s end as part of a school-wide learning process.
Ms. Decker said instituting the training for parents “seemed to be a natural extension of the LS Diversity Initiative and teacher training,” which originally began in the 2012–13 school year, thanks to a proposal spearheaded by Assistant Director of the LS Anthony Reppucci.
At the time of the 2012 proposal, Mr. Reppucci said he and his colleagues “were looking to restructure the whole model” of diversity education, which he said needed systematic change.
“On the surface, kids can be happy,” he said, “but there is an underlying notion that never escapes a child—that there are physical differences.”
According to Ms. Decker, many parents of color across all three campuses had voiced concerns that inspired her to push for the new trainings for parents.
“What I hear from many LS multiracial families and families of color is that there are ways the LS majority parent community needs to become more inclusive,” she said. “We want to be part of that change. The question is how. This training will give us the knowledge and skills to begin to answer that question.”
When she brought forward the idea of hosting parent trainings, Ms. Decker said she received positive support all around, citing the aid of LS Director Shera Selzer, Mr. Reppucci, Director of Multicultural Services Lewis Bryant, Lower School Parents’ Association (LSPA) Vice-Presidents Pam Baker and Jess Baron (both P’23, ’25), and Parents’ Association (PA) President Jackie Stephen ’86 P’16, ’19.
One participant, Mary Beth Gordon P’24, 26, echoed Ms. Decker’s sentiments.
“I’m dismayed that families are feeling the effects of cultural incompetence, and I’d like to learn how I can contribute to a positive culture at BB&N,” she said.
Allison Wade P’15, ’23 said she has long faced “concerns about the culture at the Lower School” as a parent of color. She said her third-grader has experienced the school in a “different and less enjoyable way” than her son, Adon, a junior who spent his elementary years at the Park School, which Ms. Wade called “more upfront about challenging issues of diversity.”
In attending the trainings, Ms. Wade said she hopes “to hear how other parents view the situation and learn ways to improve the culture at the Lower School.”
Although the cultural competency trainings are designed for “majority parents”—who make up about 74 percent of the community, according to an email announcing the program—all parents are welcome to participate, and the first two trainings saw attendance from both majority and minority parents.
The first two trainings also saw mixed responses.
After the January session, Ms. Baron said she “was moved by the care and concern” she heard from parents.
Although Ms. Wade agreed the trainings, as well as the DSC, were “good starting points” for raising awareness, she regretted that she so far did “not see any improvement.”
“There will need to be a larger and more concerted effort to educate all parents as to why issues of diversity affect their children and families directly,” she said. “I hope the training will open eyes for families to what it is like to be considered an ‘other.’”
Mr. Reppucci stressed that the progress of the Diversity Initiative will not end once the three years of Cultural Competency trainings are over.
“This work continues infinitely into the future,” he said. “It never stops. There will always be a need, at BB&N or at any independent school like us.”
Mr. Reppucci said the LS also recognizes the value of cultural concerns being voiced in groups where minority students are in the majority, as is possible with the preexisting Affinity Lunch program, a group for students of color in grades two through six. Still, he said, programs like Affinity Lunch—which exclude certain students by definition—warrant additional improvement.
LS Third Grade Homeroom Teacher Maura Pritchard, a member of the faculty’s DSC, urged community members on all campuses to think critically about cultural competency and to identify areas where the school needs to see improvement.
“If [teachers] can dialogue openly and honestly—even if it feels uncomfortable at times—we’ll be better prepared to help our students navigate this work as well,” she said.
Mr. Reppucci said that with the parent-focused training sessions, the LS is striving towards an unprejudiced, unbiased education system, hoping to allow all children to feel supported and have equal access to the curriculum.
The next parent meeting will be held on March 4, soon followed by an April session.