As part of the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition’s UnifiED School Launch Program Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to visit schools throughout the United States. In search of an exemplar model of what it means to be a diverse and integrated community, I recently visited several schools in Los Angeles, California. While each school was unique in their approach towards being a diverse and integrated community, two schools stood out: Citizens of the World,Hollywood and City Charter Schools,TCS. Not only were both schools extremely diverse in student population, but there was a clear recognition and appreciation for diverse cultures, perspectives, and backgrounds. This showed up in the text students were reading, the art that was posted on walls, and conversations I witnessed in classrooms. Most surprising, in the cafeteria – a time where children tend to navigate back to their place of social comfort – these spaces remained noticeably integrated. I left both schools thinking, “What is the secret sauce?” “How did they accomplish such a tremendous task, something we as a broader society have not resolved?” The answer is simple – an unapologetic commitment to being a diverse community. Diversity must live in the fabric of the school and parent community. In speaking with staff and leadership, both schools clearly articulated why diversity is important to them and discussed some of the challenges they have had in the process. While there are many that I could list, there are two I would like to highlight.
1. If Diversity is important, be clear about it upfront – In one of our visits, I posed the question, “How do you introduce the concept of trying to be an intentionally diverse community?” The school leader responded, “You must be clear from the beginning. Being an intentionally diverse school cannot be something you try and introduce throughout the year. Families need to know when they sign their kids up that it is a commitment of the school.”
2. Diversity needs to live in all parts of the school and parent community – Being a diverse school is not just about having different races or classes. There must be intentional programming that focuses on lifting up, appreciating, and valuing all cultures. Diversity must show up in the texts students read, the conversations that are had in class, and the activities students engage in. Parents are also an integral part and must work to unpack potential bias. At Citizens of the World, parents participate in quarterly sessions in which they engage in conversations around race, class, power, and privilege.
As I prepare to open the Social Justice School here in Washington D.C., I am thinking critically about these two points and will utilize what I have learned to launch a truly integrated school.