I was fortunate to be exposed to diverse academic settings prior to beginning my independent school journey in seventh grade. I remember feeling okay with not being the majority because, one, I had friends from various backgrounds and, two, my extracurricular activities grounded me. If I was not home, I was found in my predominantly Black church, dance school, and so on. When I chose to attend Hewitt, my grandmother made it clear that this experience would be different because, as a little Black girl, the amount of privilege I would be exposed to was going to come with its challenges. On top of that, Hewitt absolutely had to work because I was going to be there until 12th grade - there was no way we were going to do this admissions process again!
As a parent(s)/guardian(s), if you are anything like how my grandmother was, I know you are concerned about placing your Black or brown child in an independent school - you recognize the value of the education, but are concerned about their emotional and mental well-being. Please know that your concerns are valid, because the reality is most independent schools fall short on their equity efforts. However, there are schools that don’t make you choose between strong academics and a diverse community. It is critical in ensuring your child's emotional and mental health that you do your due diligence in evaluating each school's commitment to being anti-racist. Below are some questions to both ask and think about as you consider which school community is best for your child.
Read their mission statement and values. Does it explicitly call out diversity, equity, or inclusion? If it does, take it a step further and explore whether their curriculum and programming align with their mission statement declarations.
Does the school provide diversity training from reputable organizations, such as the Center for Racial Justice in Education (RJIS) or the CARLE (Critical Analysis of Race in learning & Education) Institute as part of professional development for faculty/staff?
On the flip side, does each school extend similar workshops for students to engage in facilitated conversations with their classmates/peers? In what grade(s) and how often? Are there any affinity spaces for your child? What student organizations exist for the students?
Does the school offer an affinity space for parents of color as well? Do not hesitate to inquire about one.
When touring the school, do you notice Black and brown teachers and students in the classroom?
Have you explored the faculty page? Are there any faculty of color leading departments?
What percentage of the school budget is devoted to financial aid? Larger endowments are usually an indicator for a sizable amount reserved for F.A.
What do their recruiting events look like? Are Black and brown teachers and students involved? Do they address diversity and current issues during their "talks"?
Ask about current grade advisors. An advisor is someone who will serve as your child's advocate during their time at that school. They spend time with them everyday. Does he/her look like her? Are they a demonstrated ally?
Does the school have someone who serves as a full-time diversity officer? You may see Diversity Director, Director of Equity & Inclusion or similar variations to that title. The person in that role should be working in partnership with the Head of School and act as a member of the leadership team.
Keep in mind that many schools may have a solid answer to some of these questions, but not all will. That shouldn't completely alarm you as long as you feel confident that they are aware of shortcomings and are actively working to be a better community.
If you are interested in discussing this further and need assistance navigating options, please schedule a free consultation here.