Lower School

Academic Curriculum and Diversity and Inclusion

The Lower School academic curriculum is designed to embrace and celebrate a diversity of people, places, experiences, cultures, families and genders. This is done to varying degrees in all grade levels and content areas. We strive each year to continue to develop our curriculum so that it provides "windows" into the lives of others, "mirrors" that reflect the lived experiences of each student, and "sliding glass doors" into our shared and varied histories. (More about windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors.) Our writing program helps students to record their own history/herstory/mystory through personal narrative and poetry, and encourages students to share and learn from each other. The Math in Focus text embraces the diversity of our population in that it is intentionally varied in names, gender representation and inclusion of physical differences.

Social studies is also a natural topic through which we do diversity and inclusion work. Our curriculum, and the ongoing efforts to evolve these learning opportunities, is focused on themes of identity, social justice, global perspectives, service and missing voices in history, with the Quaker testimonies woven throughout. This work can be seen in the identity and community work done through the kindergarten portraits project and first grade International Mother Language Day. Second grade learns about missing voices in history through the Public and Mural Arts unit, while third grade delves into religious tolerance through the historical context of William Penn. Global perspectives are explored through a week-long experience called the World Peace Game in fourth grade. Fifth grade focuses on a variety of aspects of diversity and inclusion in both language arts and social studies, including understanding and identifying microaggressions, feeling marginalized in a community, bias, stereotypes and analyzing skilled and unskilled questions.


Social Curriculum and Diversity and Inclusion

Our community work around diversity and inclusion extends far beyond the academic work to both the formal and informal social curriculum. This is most apparent in our use of Responsive Classroom practices to structure and support a respectful and nurturing classroom and school community, and in the work done during Friendship Groups by Lower School Counselor Lisa Reedich, also known as our "feelings teacher." Friendship Groups start in the beginning of the school year, and topics are revisited at various times throughout. The depth of these discussions spirals up through each successive grade to match the developmental level of the children.

In Friendship Groups from pre-K through fifth grade, students talk about the similarities and differences that can be observed in people. Beginning in first grade, Lower School Counselor Lisa Reedich and the students explicitly discuss race, ethnicity, gender, skin color, body shape and body size, abilities, language, religion, who people love, all kinds of families, and other identifiers. She offers developmentally appropriate definitions for these terms, and guides students in discussing how these differences make each of us unique and special.

Together, Reedich and students talk about how diversity means having all kinds of people present, and that inclusion means making sure everyone feels welcome and included. She models how to ask someone about differences in a skillful manner, and the importance of never teasing anyone about differences. Students are taught the difference between "unskillful" questions and "skillful" questions. An unskillful question, for example, is "What are you?" A skillful question takes into account a number of factors that show care and respect for the other person. As a class, they make lists of categories about which students should never tease each other, hang these in the homeroom classrooms, and refer to them throughout the year. For pre-K and K, concrete categories are used such as skin color, hair texture, body shape/size, all kinds of families, religion, holidays, etc. One of the students' favorite activities in the younger grades is when Reedich uses puppets to act out unskillful and skillful ways of talking, asking questions, including friends, etc.

Another topic in Friendship Group is the importance of being an "upstander." Reedich role plays different scenarios around bullying and discusses the importance of being an upstander and not a bystander. This work includes discussing the things that may prevent someone from being an upstander, why someone would be a bully, how a bully gets power, and how bystanders actually assist bullies when they say and do nothing to help. Bullying is also defined — because not all conflicts or teasing are bullying. This is talked about in general terms, but also as related to teasing around identifiers such as race, gender and abilities.

In addition to her work with Friendship Groups and supporting individual students and teachers, Reedich has also supported the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Lower School diversity coordinators in running affinity groups for fourth and fifth grade students. Past topics were generated by students and have included: all kinds of families and body shape and body size.

Professional Development

Our Lower School faculty is committed to ongoing learning in service of students. This ranges from new and best teaching practices to the difficult work of interrogating bias and developing cultural competency. We hold the Quaker testimonies of community, integrity and equality close when we do work related to developing a diverse and inclusive curriculum and school environment, especially when it comes to our own professional development. 

What does this look like in practice? It's visible in some of the books we chose last summer as our professional development reading such as The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, and The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys, by Moore, Michael and Penick-Parks. It is clear in the development and practice of the inclusive and respectful language we use with students and each other after reading The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton or working with Samantha Taylor from the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic at CHOP. It can be seen in the many workshops and conferences we attend, host and at which we present, such as the Multicultural Resource Center conference (MCRC) and People of Color Conference (POCC). And it lives in the work we are planning through our Diversity and Core Values committees and through faculty meetings dedicated to these topics.

Penn Charter and the Lower School are clearly committed to supporting and nurturing all students and families within our community. We do this proactively through curricular work, social-emotional learning and professional development, and responsively by working with individual and student groups as issues arise. Lower School is an intense period of learning and growth where students continue to develop compassion, empathy and respect. Our job is to help them live this practice, and to facilitate their learning when they make a mistake that hurts a peer or the school community. We, in turn, do this with love and compassion, and with the belief that we can help our students to feel a sense of deep belonging and to thrive in a diverse and inclusive community.