In the Middle School, the ABCs of inclusion (Affirm Identity, Build Community, and Cultivate Leadership Skills) are an important part of our approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This simple mnemonic device from Beverly Tatum, Ph.D., provides an outline for critical dimensions of effective learning environments.
This effort begins with Tiffany Smith, the Director of Middle School, and is grounded in The BVR Student. During her tenure as director—and with assistance from Associate Director of the Middle School Ann Bevan Hollos—Tiffany has instituted norms in the Middle School community and effective strategies for engaging students and families. This includes asking students to share what a particular “BVR Student” skill or habit means to them in our Middle School Meetings, and occasionally giving families opportunities to share middle school moments with students through the recap of these meetings. For the Middle School faculty and staff, she has facilitated conversations that ask them to contemplate their relationships with students, examine their instructional practices, and engage in self-reflection.
Others in the MS assume essential roles when it comes to DEI—with the entire community expected to fully engage in the work.
In ‘College Students’ Sense of Belonging,’ Teffell L. Strayhorn identifies two key elements of engagement: what institutions do and what students do. This encapsulates my role at Beaver: helping all Middle School students especially those from underrepresented populations become involved in the community and assisting adults as we create environments that foster a sense of belonging among all students. – Joe Christy, MS Director of Engagement and Inclusion
- The Associate Director of Academic Services Terri Flannery helps faculty develop equitable learning communities in their classroom with the focus on a student-centered approach. This encourages teachers to get to know each student and create a sense of community where each individual feels valued. Once trust is established, students become open to receiving critical feedback from teachers and classmates and take academic risks.
- MS faculty design lessons that encourage empathy, challenge students to go beyond their comfort zone, and allow students to engage in thought-provoking conversations about identity, civic engagement, and social justice—or foster cross-category friendships and empathy through effective peer collaboration
- Examples include:
- Tim O’Brien’s “Where is the GOOD WiFi?” (6th Grade Math)
- Geeta Jain’s “Collective Action & Collective Action Reflection” (6th Grade Humanities)
- Jon Greenberg’s “Choice of Celebrating Ghosts or Seeing Sarah’s Site” (7th Grade English)
- Amy Winston’s “Here’s the Thing” (7th Grade Visual Arts)
- Kathleen Kosberg’s “Artistic License and Yous Vignette (8th Grade English)
- Geeta Jain’s & Vanessa Savas’s “Resistance During the Holocaust & Persecution of the Gay Community & Reclaiming the Pink Triangle” (8th Grade History)
- Sara O’Toole’s “Everyday Unit” (8th Grade Theater Arts)
- Lindsay Rich’s “Mini Biography Reading Warm Up” (Spanish A + B)
- Debbie Apple’s “Music in Culture” (Price Strings)
- The Middle School Music Program (All Students)
- Students explore different aspects of their identity and ways to demonstrate kindness to others. Tammy Graham, the MS Counselor, oversees the Advisory Circle program. Advisory Circle is a dilemma/scenario-based conversation in advisory groups. These dilemmas ask students and advisors to explore real situations and grapple with possible solutions. For example, students explored excluding others and spreading rumors and kindness.
- Faculty and staff facilitate our affinity spaces: Students of Color Community Meeting, and Sexual and Gender Alliance (SAGA).
- Amber Kuntz, Director of MS Student Life and Athletic Programs, works with coaches and staff to create an environment where students develop skills, learn to collaborate, and have fun. There is a focus on the importance of students understanding what it means to work as a cohesive unit to achieve a common goal. Essential components in building strong relationships among students with different backgrounds are identified and fostered throughout programming. This philosophy is applied to all our afternoon activities programs. During the year, Amber looks for opportunities to incorporate the latest research in this area into our BVR/Fit and afternoon programs. In the winter, her team participates in a virtual, professional development workshop with a social psychologist. The session focuses on team building, creating inclusive experiences, and motivation.
- Joe Christy, MS Director of Engagement and Inclusion, works with students, faculty, and families to implement research-based practices that foster a sense of belonging. Examples include a Get To Know You Activity in September for the entire middle school community, a Microaggression Advisory Activity in October for all students and advisors, a Name Activity in October for all students, and a Sphere of Influence Activity in February for all students. In order to regularly equip teachers with strategies and tips to apply directly to their classrooms, faculty receive a weekly DEI Food for Thought tip. The DEI Food for Thought resource is aimed at supporting faculty in their daily interactions with students and colleagues. Tips have included a reflection teaching tool for lesson planning, several strategies for fostering positive teacher-student relationships, an effective approach for dealing with microaggressions, and ways to improve our empathy muscle. Joe also organizes and participates in affinity gatherings for students and faculty and has stressed the importance of utilizing data as we continue our efforts to create a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging.
- Liz Latour, the Director of the Hiatt Center, encourages faculty and students to practice perspective getting as they learn about and explore issues that affect communities. This approach emphasizes asking questions and empathetic listening rather than studying from afar and making assumptions. In addition, she helps teachers plan lessons that foster deeper learning, authentic output, and meaningful ways for students to make change. Throughout the year, the Center offers eight workshops through the BVR Leadership Institute. These sessions help students develop their leadership skills and explore different aspects of civic engagement and social justice. Michelle Wildes, the Associate Director of the Hiatt Center, oversees this incredible opportunity In January, Liz and Michelle work with faculty, staff, and administrators to organize an in-depth, full-day social justice retreat for MS students. During this event, students learn about becoming an advocate for justice by developing powerful skills and tools to address microaggressions and discrimination. Workshops have been led by US students, adults in the greater Boston area, and faculty and staff. The 2021 workshops were led by Dr. Karlenis Castillo ’01, Aneesah Dambreville ’01, Lydia Valentine, Geeta Jain (Middle School Faculty), and Vanessa Savas (Middle School Faculty.) Joddy Nwankwo ’18, was the keynote speaker.
- Throughout the year, MS faculty participate in several professional development virtual workshops with noted experts in social psychology, developmental psychology, and neuroscience. Topics covered during the 2020–2021 academic year include communication and listening skills, empathy, wise feedback, culture, and social networks, and a social psychology perspective on racism, bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- In order to gauge where we are as a community, we collect data from students, faculty, and families. This year, we will administer these surveys in-house, which will allow students to play an active role in distributing them, analyzing the results, and offering possible ways for us to grow. Faculty and administrators will utilize these instruments to highlight our strengths and explore next steps to improve in our areas of growth. We are using Panorama Educations surveys with some edits to ensure reliability and validity. Students provide feedback about courses in the fall and spring, and their overall middle school experience in the winter, faculty complete a self-reflection in the spring, and families provide information about their experiences in May.
We are deeply committed to creating a diverse and inclusive community.
In this Distributed Leadership Model, our Director of Engagement & Inclusion help support the ongoing work of the BVR Middle School community.