Equity and Inclusion and the Parents Association
I wondered how issues of equity and inclusion affect parents and compound the disconnect between what parents expect in the way of involvement and expectations of the school? How does it affect their anxiety about the school and their child’s education, their ability to advocate for them, and their sense of community within the school? The National Association of Independent Schools has brought the conversation of equity and inclusion to the forefront but still focuses heavily on students, faculty, administration, and trustees. If parents do not feel comfortable at their child's school or do not fully embrace the changing zeitgeist of the school, how can students be expected to feel comfortable? Are parents passing down their emotional shields and helmets to their children?
The conversation needs to start with parents, in addition to students. The parents association or other self-governed parent body is often relied upon to create community within an independent school. Are issues of equity, diversity, inclusion and justice forefront in the minds of parent association leaders?
I decided to speak with Jen Cort, a consultant who specializes in issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice in schools. She shared with me a heartbreaking story about a school where the parent association solicited for gifts and donations in the carpool line with regularity. A single parent, whose child received tuition assistance and worked two shift-work jobs, felt anxious and shamed when the parent association volunteer approached her car knowing that she could not contribute time or money or goods.
This parent’s shame was so acute that she started dropping her son off and picking him up at the back of the building to avoid contact with future volunteers. Even if her son belonged to an affinity group or participated in rich diversity and inclusion activities, the exercise has to ring hollow as he absorbs his mother's shame and feeling of otherness by entering the back of the building each day.
With the benefit of Jen’s depth of insight, here is my list of suggestions for parent associations that aspire to make changes to their structure to align with current diversity, equity, and inclusion practice:
· Plan at least three get-togethers with parents. It is culturally inconsistent to drop off kids at school without expecting to become part of the community.
· Assign every new parent to a current ambassador parent. Coach the ambassadors in best practices of diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice.
· Hold parent association meetings in the evening, at the school, and not at a private home. Skip the alcohol.
· Offer childcare for parent association meetings with snacks or dinner for both parents and kids.
· Offer a live stream/webinar option for those that cannot attend in person.
· Recruit leaders for the parent association that represent the diversity in the school.
· Be clear in the goals of the parent association and make changes if the goals inadvertently exclude a portion of the parent population through the nature of its existence.
How does your school address issues of equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice for parents?