This communication is the second quarterly report on work that began this summer to rethink the curriculum and change the culture at Penn Charter, including the activity of two task forces created by Head of School Darryl J. Ford.
Read the highlights and, below, a detailed account from Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Antonio Williams.
- The fully operational task forces created to advocate for change – the Race & Equity Task Force and the Gender Equity, Sexuality & Consent Task Force – are engaged in a discovery phase with surveys, focus groups, empathy interviews and listening circles.
- Curriculum has expanded to include indigenous religions and African history. Faculty and administration are engaged in an examination of the entire human sexuality component of the Health curriculum, pre-K to 12; PC has opened a search for a new Health and Human Sexuality educator.
- Building community and empathy, faculty engage Lower School students in age-appropriate conversations around social identifiers, allyship and privilege, and Middle School students regarding gender and racial equity, privilege, LGBTQ rights and socioeconomic class. With Upper School student leadership, a new Seminar series probes privilege, allyship, racism, women's history and the lessons of the Holocaust.
- A new Bias Response Protocol, designed to respond to macro- and microaggressions and rebuild trust using restorative justice, is now being implemented.
Read on for a detailed update from Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Antonio Williams ...
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
James Baldwin's words best describe the current mindset and determination of our institution. The events of this past year, specifically the murders of Black men, Black women and Black transgender people, the attacks on Asians and Jewish people, as well as the misogynistic behavior of many, have moved Penn Charter to be introspective. We challenged ourselves to examine our identity, our biases and our privilege.
As a Quaker school, we strive to see the Light within each of us and each other and to uphold the Quaker testimony of equality. As a 332-year-old school susceptible to different biases, we are committed to facing the challenges in front of us and changing systems of oppression.
This work requires us to critically examine ourselves through the lenses of inclusion, equity and belonging. This work is extremely personal and requires each of us to be open to self-examination and confronting biases and privileges. This work encourages self-reflection and promotes self-growth. We understand the dichotomy of the need to ensure that community members feel included and protected, but also respect that we all are at different levels of development. This is a tremendous challenge. Consequently, we have approached our work in a manner that strives to inspire each of us to see the Light in everyone.
Task Forces: Discovery Phase
Penn Charter's two task forces are in the process of gathering information to guide their work. For both task forces, this discovery phase is a first step toward identifying and addressing policies, procedures and practices that uphold systemic racism, sexism and other oppressive and discriminatory attitudes and beliefs at Penn Charter.
The Race & Equity Task Force was divided into four committees: parents/guardians; students; OPCs; and faculty, staff and administration. Students are surveying students about their experiences learning about race, discussing race and racial dynamics at PC. We will soon circulate separate surveys to parents, OPCs, faculty and staff. Our next step is to use empathy interviews to hear the stories and experiences of members of our community. To ensure that this process is done correctly and effectively, we are using a consultant to review our questions and train us in the art of empathy interviewing. Upon the conclusion of the interviews, we will analyze the data with the help of trained statisticians.
The Gender Equity, Sexuality & Consent Task Force has determined three priority areas of focus: Curriculum, Policies and Procedures, and Community Healing. The Curriculum working group partnered with the International Institute of Restorative Justice to train more than 20 students, faculty and administrators to be listening circle facilitators. Beginning in March, listening circles will be conducted for students, faculty, OPCs and parents to reflect on Penn Charter's curriculum related to the goals of the task force. We will review the collected information with the support of a research firm and consultant Debbie Roffman to identify central themes and make specific curriculum recommendations to the administration.
Pre-K to 12: Curriculum and Teaching
"When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you … when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul – and not just individual strength, but collective understanding – to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard."
Adrienne Rich said it best when she explained the significance of seeing oneself within the curriculum. Over the years, Penn Charter has committed to reviewing content, examining how we present material to students, and inquiring if we ask questions that challenge the dominant culture.
In the past, we have added courses such as Peace, Justice and Social Change; American Studies; Introduction to Statistics A (With an Emphasis on Social Justice); and Art and Social Justice. Each of these courses uses the content within its curriculum to address social justice issues and to challenge privilege.
For the upcoming 2021-22 school year, the Social Studies department has added two electives: African American Studies, and Modern Africa. The department also added an additional, second section of American Women's History to expand enrollment, responding to student interest. The Religious Studies and Philosophy comparative religions classes have been expanded to include religions from Africa, Asia and North America. In addition, the department chairs group is exploring ways to incorporate diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice into the curriculum.
The Health and Wellness team — led by Academic Dean David Brightbill and including the divisional counselors, chair of the Health and Physical Education department, and Health teachers within that department — is actively working with consultant Debbie Roffman to update the entire human sexuality component of the Health curriculum, pre-K to 12. Over the next few years, our goal is to develop a comprehensive human sexuality program that is developmentally appropriate. Roffman has met with the Lower School teachers as a group and is also working with teachers on a 1:1 basis.
Roffman is working with Academic Dean David Brightbill on Penn Charter's search for a newly created position: Health and Human Sexuality educator.
Students: Community Building
The most important aspect of our work is creating an environment of inclusion and belonging for all of our students. The emotional and psychological welfare of the community are our top priorities; we place students in the position to think critically about who they are and how they impact the larger community.
In the Lower School, our students continue to meet with Lisa Reedich, the Lower School counselor, at least once a week. Students engage in age-appropriate conversations around social identifiers, allyship and privilege. They explore and develop the skills needed to engage in conversations around social identifiers. By fifth grade, they have learned how to identify and confront bias as well as how to promote social justice.
The education of inclusion and belonging continues in Middle School. Students engage in conversations with their advisors once a week using activities, guided lessons, discussion, current events and/or self-reflection to help develop a deeper understanding. These topics include but are not limited to: gender and racial equity, privilege, LGBTQ rights and socioeconomic class.
In Upper School, we have used Seminar to educate students about such topics as the Holocaust, privilege, allyship, racism and women's history. The main purpose of Seminar is to provide important foundational concepts and ideas to help students explore and navigate broader conversations around social identifiers and social justice.
At the beginning of the 2019 summer break, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion created a Bias Response Protocol. Throughout the 2019-20 school year and the summer of 2020, a group that included Naveena Bembry, Wilson Felter, Ruth McGee, Lee Payton, Holly Silberman, Marcy Sosa, Jessica Stusnick-Czyzewski and Shelby Tucker worked with me to fine-tune and prepare the protocol for implementation at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The purpose of the protocol is to address macro- and microaggressions and rebuild trust using restorative justice.
Faculty and Parent Development and Awareness
At Penn Charter, we believe that self-reflection can lead toward self-growth. This school year, faculty and staff professional development focuses on race and anti-racism and gender, sexuality and consent. The division diversity coordinators and I established professional learning groups, with a shared reading list, for the sole purpose of providing a safe place for faculty, staff and administration to engage in dialogue on topics raised in the books. These professional learning groups meet for book discussion and conversations that challenge us to examine our own identity and privilege. In addition, we discuss how personal identity, privilege and fragility impact the decisions we make as teachers, administrators and staff. This booklist appears below.
The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) is in its second year at Penn Charter. This program was designed to engage participants in conversations that promote personal growth in the areas of identity, inclusion and social justice. This program is voluntary for our veteran teachers but mandatory for all new hires. Over the past two years, about half of the PC faculty and staff have participated in this program. This year, we provided PC parents an opportunity to share in this experience. It is important for the adults in the community to model the behavior and mindset we expect of students.
OPCs of Color Involvement
Since the summer of 2020, we have met with OPCs of color to hear their experiences and discuss the school's response to the issues of racism and inequality. We updated them about the work that is being done around diversity, equity and inclusion. Additionally, we discussed ways they can participate, build relationships and mentor our current students of color. We also discussed creating additional events specifically geared towards OPCs of color. This school year, we have been intentional about inviting OPCs of color to hear the different DEI speakers. So that we can communicate events and forge mentorship relationships with current students of color, we ask OPCs of color to complete this form.
Regional Black Alumni Leaders
School leadership has met with leaders of the new Inter-Ac and Independent School Black Alumni Association (IISBAA) to respond to their concerns and to be supportive of their efforts here at Penn Charter and throughout the schools they represent. To facilitate this, heads of school and diversity directors will meet biannually with IISBAA leadership. IISBAA seeks to cultivate relationships and leverage resources to advocate for and support Black Inter-Ac and independent school students.
Thank you for your time and attention. We invite you to explore Penn Charter's DEI webpagesto learn more about the task forces; faculty and staff professional development materials that you might want to tap; DEI programming for students and adults; and Penn Charter's commitment to building a culture of inclusion and belonging.
Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Faculty and Staff Professional Learning Group Booklist
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi
- The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, by Dolly Chugh
- White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo
- Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, Revised Edition: America's Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, by Joy DeGruy