Ensuring That All Means ALL: Diversity initiatives at YES Prep Public Schools

According to data released last month by the Department of Education, students of color and those with disabilities face suspensions and expulsions at rates higher than their white counterparts. At the Kickoff, Superintendent Mark DiBella asked all YES Prep team members to consider discrepancies in our own systems— particularly in relation to the discipline of African American boys. This charge was part of a larger conversation about All Means ALL, the idea that YES Prep will work tirelessly to serve all students that choose YES Prep with conviction and free of bias and embrace, honor, and respect the diversity of all YES Prep teammates. The system also unveiled the diversity statement: at YES Prep, we embrace and protect diversity to advance equity and social justice.

At YES Prep, we embrace and protect diversity to advance equity and social justice.

Although the unveiling of All Means ALL and the diversity statement corresponded with national attention to discipline data, YES Prep has been working for well over a year to ensure that diversity initiatives are a focal point of the organization. Last year, a Diversity Strategic Team developed the vision and planned the implementation of a Professional Learning Series. In the winter and spring, the Diversity Strategic Team held system-wide events to facilitate conversations about race and to seek feedback on the vision. In addition, Diversity Strategic Team member and YES Prep North Forest School Director, Eldridge Gilbert, spearheaded the Brotherhood Summit. In May, the team hired Diversity Ambassadors from many campuses and the home office. The Diversity Ambassadors’ role is to facilitate the Professional Learning Series on their campus, support diversity events, and communicate with the Diversity Strategic Team the needs, concerns, and feedback from the campuses.

The Professional Learning Series for 2015-16 includes three sessions: Understanding Cultural Identity, Leading and Engaging in Effective Dialogue, and Unpacking and Understanding Bias. The sessions will become part of onboarding for new team members next summer, so that everyone is equipped with the language for future professional development and conversations around race and bias.

The Diversity Strategic Team emphasizes the outcomes of having these conversations in school systems. “If we want to build transformative relationships, we have to think about difference and how that impacts our relationships,” said Lexy Arroyo, a member of the Diversity Strategic Team and Director of Teacher Development. Doing the work now, Arroyo added, will have a great impact on students in the future. “We’ll have curriculum that is more inclusive. The more that we are able to recognize differences that our students bring to the table and value, acknowledge, praise, and incorporate them in our classes, the more students are going to thrive and find their voices.” This is of vital important in a greater educational system that might ignore or devalue the voices of students of color. If this work is done, Arroyo added, “Not only will [students] have more emotional connection and feeling of safety, but they’ll also thrive academically.”

If we want to build transformative relationships, we have to think about difference and how that impacts our relationships.

Megan Gibbs, Dean of Instruction at YES Prep East End, experienced the Understanding Cultural Identity session as part of her training to become a Diversity Ambassador. “It was an opportunity to explore who I am, my cultural identity, and to think about how my values have been shaped by my culture,” she said. “If we think it’s important to teach our students how to be culturally responsible citizens,” she said, “we need to take the time to learn for ourselves.”

For many, these conversations aren’t easy. “In order to grow,” Gibbs said, “we have to engage with being uncomfortable. It doesn’t always feel great, but we’re growing as people and a system.” YES Prep is committed to this growth, to addressing discrepancies in achievement and behavior management systems, and to ensuring that team members are embracing and protecting diversity and advancing equity and social justice. All Means ALL.

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