How Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is Integrated Into Lower School Lessons & Learning

  • Academics
  • Child Development
  • The Aspen Difference
Aspen Academy Contributors

Our recent interview with Dana Kohls, Lower School Director, focused on how the concepts of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion show up for some of Aspen Academy's youngest learners. 

Aspen Academy (AA): What's your vision for our JEDI/DEI work and how it shows up in our classes and for our students in Lower School?

Dana Kohls: As an organization, we prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion to create an environment that respects and values individual differences along varying dimensions of diversity. We recognize the impact of centering and integrating this work across all content areas.  I envision our pathway to equity and social justice is woven throughout our core values of being kind, working hard, doing good, and making the world better. Through an intentional focus on justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, I believe we are growing students who will impact not only their world but also the world of others for good. Our school can be an example for the world.

In Lower School, we do this by:

  • Fostering an environment in which our students work toward confidence with self-identity and self-awareness through our character and leadership curriculum.
  • Centering diversity work in developmentally appropriate ways for our youngest learners through literature, song, movement, communication, and more.
  • Ensuring our adults have the necessary cultural competence to serve our students holistically.

AA: What are some things you learned at the recent National Association of Independent School's People of Color Conference that are best practices that you see happening at Aspen Academy already?

Dana Kohls: We are doing great things here at Aspen! First and foremost, we know that children are not too young to learn about justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Aspen Academy is always at the forefront of utilizing research in education, and I am proud that we are providing windows and mirrors for our little learners. Children notice everything that is said and that which is not. We value the opportunity for authentic learning, communication, and development of character and leadership within our young learners.

We are profoundly committed to our staff and faculty’s personal and professional development. This work is inside-out work. To lead the charge in our classrooms requires our adults to be committed to both the private and professional development it takes to deliver a thoughtful research-based curriculum that creates caring, critical thinkers.

AA: What are some things you learned from the conference that you’re eager to implement to support our vision for DEI/JEDI at Aspen Academy?

Dana Kohls: This work is enormous, and I wouldn’t like to risk presenting it in such a way that it feels like a checklist. The top three takeaways swirling in my mind at any given moment are to continue to examine equity in grading in further depth and detail and continuing our commitment to providing parent education around justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

AA: You’re in a role that has many responsibilities, yet you make time for this: What inspires you most about this work?

Dana Kohls: This work is both personal and professional for me. It has been a passion of mine throughout my 26 years as an educator and administrator and it is woven into my being as a multi-racial individual. This work is not an “extra,” nor is it philanthropic, it is critical to the development of ourselves, our students, and our community. Filling our halls with the beauty of students and families of all diversity is a strategic goal of mine, as well as Aspen Academy.  I commit to centering this work for the betterment of myself, my family, and those around me. There is so much hope, joy, discovery, and celebration in this work, and that inspires me daily.

Many parents have questions about the age-appropriate nature of DEI work. The informative chart below shares more:

DEI Chart by Development Age from 0-6+


Read more about the vision for this work from Director, Jessie Skipwith here.

Click here for more on DEI at Aspen Academy


About the Author

photo of Dana Kohls

Dana Kohls, Lower School Director

Dana holds both a Bachelors Degree in Liberal Studies and a Masters Degree in Development and Technology from California State University. Dana brings 18 years of teaching experience to Aspen Academy and has served as a Mathematics Committee Leader, District Professional Learning Advisor and Technology Team Leader.



B.S., Liberal Studies, California State University
M.A., Development and Technology, California State University