Grow, Learn and Lead with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  • Academics
  • Child Development
Jessie Skipwith

 

This school year has started as quickly as last year ended and we enter this school year with a direct and absolute call to action. There is no doubt that your children and families have observed, heard or discussed any number of topics this summer surrounding matters that speak to diversity, equity and inclusion. Depending on the age of your children, these topics may have encompassed skin color and/or understanding the variety of differences and similarities in Black, White, Latinx, Asian, and the variety of international students we serve, gender identity and supporting friends in the LBGTQ community. Perhaps you have been fielding questions about Black Lives Matter, systemic injustice, ableism or racial discrimination. No matter the nature of your conversations, you have certainly experienced a heightened level of personal and social awareness around the need we have as parents and educators to effectively and responsibly lead our children towards a deeper understanding of the world we are living in, and we are here to be your partners in this endeavor.

I cannot imagine that anyone is anticipating that the work ahead of us will be easy. In fact, it is likely going to be very challenging; even difficult at times. This is what we do at Aspen Academy.  We ask hard questions, seek responsible answers, and do so with authentic engagement with our students. The current issues that we are facing and that our children are asking questions about, demand that we not tip-toe around these challenging topics, but rather that, as leaders, we confront and address these questions head on.  Aspen Academy teachers, staff and administrators have engaged in conversations and planning with one another, with parents, and with board members about how we will lean in and respond to this call to action.

As an educator, it is second nature to set a plan and a course of action. Doing so allows us to establish measurable outcomes, monitor progress towards identifiable goals, and reflect and refine for next-level developments. 

The following efforts are what you can look for this school year. We will meet every member of our community “where they are” along this journey of discovery, growth and self-awareness.  We will honor and acknowledge that there are American voices, bodies, and lives that are crying out to be heard; and in keeping with our core values, it is both Kind and Good to model for our students how to hear and value others while preserving the dignity and respect of each individual while striving for benevolent change.

 

Framework for Call to Action: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Aspen Academy

Acknowledgement

We have all heard the adage “you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.”  Well today, we can hear and see that many people in our communities are adversely affected by systems that continue to perpetuate marginalization for underrepresented groups of people. At Aspen Academy we serve students from all backgrounds, races, colors, a religious beliefs, and it is a priority for us to help our students make sense out of the “why” behind certain groups of people not having fair, just and equitable access to quality education, health care, clean air and water, and sustainable employment, among others. These are the questions our students are asking and the conversations that our teachers are prepared to lead. Acknowledging these discrepancies allows our students a courageous and safe place to become aware of injustices that exist and that have contributed to these disparities. These are the challenges that we are helping to prepare our students for as they learn to take action in their communities to effect positive change.

Educating Ourselves FIrst

We know that in order for us to acknowledge, we must first be informed. We need to hear and listen to the stories of people experiencing social injustice. We need to evaluate statistics, trends and patterns that allow us to see more clearly what variables are leading to the discrepancies that people are experiencing. DEI work and our growth are infinite; it is a marathon and not a sprint. We should definitely be patient with ourselves and be patient with others, as we are all in different places and there is no true finish line.

This year we are happy to unveil our new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion website where you will find Aspen Academy’s mission-aligned vision for our work together, abundant informative resources, and the various actions that we will be taking to guide this important work. The invitation that we receive here is one to get outside of our comfort zones and to dive deeply. We will read books with a DEI focus and build a collection of these books, listen to podcasts, peruse various articles from multiple perspectives, and lead our students to engage in civil discourse which will lead to informed civic engagement in their communities. 

Engaging in Ongoing Courageous Conversations

When we acknowledge the existence of unfairness, it is right to correct this unfairness. When we become more self-aware, we can evolve to a place of increased empathy for others. When we preserve the dignity and respect of others while engaging in civil discourse, we can grow to a place of action and change through collaboration. Students, parents and faculty will be invited to participate in a variety of discussions, Affinity Groups and Book Clubs throughout the school year. Here, members of our school community will hear the perspectives and life-experiences of others.  We will process the many thoughts and feelings being experienced by our community at this critical time in our history. And we will evaluate the ideas brought forth by all to implement change where needed. Here, we will leverage established norms for courageous conversations with the goal of inviting all members of our community to feel confident to participate and generate meaningful school outcomes.

Intentional Curricular Integration

Teachers at Aspen Academy are some of the most courageous and creative I have ever worked with. For the past five years our teachers have engaged in the necessary personal work required to better understand ourselves as we lead our students to brighter futures. Each year, our teachers engage in our very own Courageous Conversations about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in small groups and in our Culturally Responsive Classrooms. We engage in an annual Intercultural Development Inventory, assessing how we are developing in our own cultural competence and growth. Teachers engage in ongoing evaluation of materials, lessons and classroom decor to ensure cultural representation of all students. Our students benefit from experiencing both windows and mirrors through which to gaze, where they can see themselves and others: where they can be and feel truly invited, celebrated and represented in their school. Leveraging curricular supplements through Teaching Tolerance, Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum, and Aspen Academy’s very own Future Holders, students will experience intentional lessons throughout our robust and extensive curriculum. It is a goal for our efforts in DEI work at Aspen Academy that 100% of all student lessons taught in a given school year will include standards that reflect self-identity, understanding bias, and pursue racial reconciliation by 2024.

 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work is an undercurrent of all that we do at Aspen Academy.  Recognition of the importance and primacy of this work is a direct reflection of our Core Values: Be Kind, Do Good, Work Hard, and Make the World Better. We are here to recognize, celebrate and love all of our students, and to acknowledge the rich history, culture, and dignity of students from so many backgrounds. Thank you for your partnership in this courageous work and I look forward to participating and growing with you along this journey.  Together we can be the change we want to see.

 

About the Author

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Jessie Skipwith is the Director of Elevate & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Licensed School Counselor at Aspen Academy.

Jessie comes to Aspen Academy with over 20 years of experience in educational leadership and student engagement. He has held head of school positions at elementary, middle and high schools, ran an all-school counseling department, provided private practice counseling services for families and individuals, and has served as the executive director of an education non-profit supporting low-income, English language learners from throughout the greater Denver area. He is a voracious reader of books about how students learn, how families and communities support developing young people, as well as books on progressive, innovative and dynamic new solutions to many of today’s life challenges. Jessie loves that Aspen Academy provides families and students with a small, nurturing and safe environment that encourages students to take healthy risks, to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, and that it inspires insatiable curiosity and wonder in students as they pursue their passions to help make the world a better place to live for all people. Outside of work, he loves to spend time with his wife and two children and enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors while hiking, golfing or skiing.