How DEI is Integrated Into Lessons & Learning - Essentials
A conversation with Director, Dr. Rich Resendez about JEDI in the classroom
In many schools, their programs for art, dance music, theater, fitness, language, and STEAM are considered “specials.” At Aspen Academy, Our programs are “Essentials” because we believe they are Essential ingredients in a life well-lived. Given their significance in our student’s lives, they are also crucial programs for integrating our commitment to Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JED/DEI). We sat down with our Director of Programs, Dr. Rich Resendez, who brings 25 years of education experience to our Essentials Programs to learn more about his thoughts on this work.
Dr. Resendez’s unique life experiences inform his view of DEI work at Aspen Academy. His vision for DEI in Essentials classrooms is that students see themselves in their work by learning about people: from different backgrounds, with different ability levels, circumstances, and encompassing other elements of diversity. He hopes our students see themselves and others in the curriculum and demonstrate curiosity when faced with differences. “I think it's really easy to simply make a Latino kid a character a book, and say ‘done!’. Yet, if we do that, it keeps diversity on the surface and it's very comfortable for the individual who's seeing it, but it's not really delving into the life experience of those individuals, how they're different, and why that individual's experience is significant to kids. It’s important for students to understand how and why those differences are important to understanding the whole person.”
This work is important to Dr. Resendez. Among many things, he identifies as a Latino male, a gay man, a father, a husband, and a long time educator. Dr. Resendez’s teenage daughter has two gay dads, and many people just don't have a concept of what that is like. When you talk to folks, you realize it’s actually kind of typical. “The only difference is we don't have the same gender roles in a traditional fashion, but it's not very different than a heterosexual couple with kids at home. Some people think our house looks significantly different than a home with a mom and a dad. I don't take offense to the fact that people think it’s somehow really different, but it really isn't. That's part of what we would want to see in classrooms, building kids’ knowledge around different sets of circumstances that people come to the table with. We want to help them explore ‘What do your privileges allow you that you don't necessarily think about?’ or ‘What are people's circumstances and challenges that you don't necessarily think about, because of your situation?’”
What's Working at Aspen Academy
Dr. Resendez is proud of the work we are doing in DEI and the leadership’s vision to achieve it. Reflecting on his recent attendance at the National Association of Independent School’s Annual People of Color Conference (POCC), he notes his appreciation that the leadership team, specifically Head of School, Kristina Scala, for her encouragement around DEI. “There are Heads of Schools who don't even want to entertain that conversation, and I think Kristina does a wonderful job, encouraging us to engage in these conversations, knowing that it's hard and allowing us to do it right. … Kristina is probably one of the bravest leaders I've ever met. She’s not afraid to take chances and sees challenges as opportunities.” Additionally Dr. Resendez appreciates Jessie Skipworth’s role and value add to the school community. Jessie is a Director who is rising to the challenge and making this happen. Dr. Resendez believes the key piece is that Aspen Academy is giving teachers the space to learn and to try and fail.
Opportunities for Growth
While Dr. Resendez celebrates all the things our school community is doing well in our DEI work, we also have a commitment to continuous improvement. As many schools experience, we need to support teachers so that we aren’t exploiting cultures for celebrations. “It's more about the human as a human than it is about the human as an entity within the culture.” Our lessons need to delve into the meaning.
To do this, our teachers need to work on their beliefs, challenges and privilege. Aspen Academy knows this is a challenge for every individual. Aspen Academy works diligently to push teachers to do the work necessary to understand themselves so we are able to better serve the Aspen community. Dr. Resendez is fully committed to the work and pushes himself to grow with the Aspen staff.
Universals & Individual Experiences
Aspen Academy has been an incredible work environment for Dr. Resendez and he enjoys the freedom the school provides to engage the Aspen community in important DEI work. “The families are exceptionally open to different things. In general, families have been very supportive of the work and trying to engage in the conversation to help everyone grow. And I think that support comes through in how they treat everyone as individuals at the school.” Dr. Resendez is inspired by the everyday impact of having these seemingly difficult conversations frequently and honestly.Mr. Peterson adds, “I have four kids of my own. It is even more important that I do this work because we have so much going on in our country. We're so divided. … My number one job is teaching empathy so that when we read a book, we can see what it's like for this character and their historical perspective.”
For more on Essentials & JEDI at Aspen Academy, read these other recent blogs: