Spotlight on DEI
From the establishment of our new DEI Council to the amazing learning opportunities taking place in and out of our classrooms, we have been busy working toward our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals for the 2019-2020 school year. See some highlights below!
DEI Council Highlights
- Held DEI Council meeting on January 22 and Subcommittee meetings on January 7 and February 25
- Policies and Procedures subcommittee is developing a gender policy for Catherine Cook, considering best practices, legal mandates, vocabulary, and educational needs for all constituency groups
- Curriculum subcommittee met with teachers and collected data at each grade level to create a baseline of what topics are currently being taught, identify potential gaps, and establish professional development needs
- Family Action subcommittee is developing the school’s first parent/guardian affinity and alliance groups, beginning with a survey to establish our first set of groups and guide facilitator selection
- Community Outreach subcommittee has been working on a DEI resource center, including a glossary of terms and frequently asked question
In Preschool and 1st Grade, students learned about traditions and celebrations. Preschoolers explored the various family traditions that make each student special, noting how some traditions are similar and some are different, but all of them are important and contribute to their identities. 1st Graders researched winter celebrations from around the world, identifying where the celebration originated and the foods, music, dress, etc. associated with the event. Students then created a poster for the celebration and presented it to the class.
Senior Kindergarteners completed a unit to consider what shapes the identity of a neighborhood. Using visual thinking strategy (VTS) and photographs of neighborhoods from around the world, students made concrete observations to generate “wonders” about these neighborhoods. Books such as Lauren Castillo’s Nana in the City led to conversations about the assumptions we make about unfamiliar places compared to places we already know, such as our own neighborhoods.
Across the school, students celebrated Black History Month and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in a variety of fun and impactful ways. Lower School Library Enrichment class focused on Black History “Stories of Genius,” inviting Black faculty and staff to read aloud stories of the incredible contributions of African Americans. 4th Graders conducted research on important Black figures both past and present, then created a Black History Star Walk of Fame to highlight the personal facts, life events, challenges, and impacts the individual had on history. The 8th Grade class presented the 11th Annual MLK Day Assembly, sharing the inspiring stories of young activists around the world who are fighting for social justice and other causes.
Service learning concepts are often in practice throughout the school. In Junior Kindergarten, students learned about being good citizens, the difference between needs and wants, and ways that they can share their time, talents, and treasures with others in need. To put these ideas into action, Junior Kindergarteners completed a variety of service projects, including helping our HandCut Foods staff set up for lunch, cleaning, and organizing materials in the Tinker Lab, and making cheerful cards for children in the hospital. Students in the Middle School Volunteer Elective held a drive for Cradles to Crayons, collecting gently used coats, clothes, books, and other children’s essentials. They then collaborated with the Parent Association’s Service Committee to hold an all-family service project in which over 100 Catherine Cook students and parents came together to work in the Cradles to Crayons warehouse to support local Chicago families in need.
In 4th Grade, students studied different Native American tribes and the incredible diversity within the native community. They also learned about significant historical events and perspectives that led to the marginalization of native groups and the U.S. government’s systemic oppression of native people for hundreds of years, resulting in an active movement by Native Americans to regain their lost power through protest. Students then examined harmful stereotypes of Native Americans – from the misconception of a singular Native American experience and culture to the use of harmful imagery for sporting mascots – and how those same ideas can be applied across cultures and identities to devalue the experiences of many groups of people in history and today.
Focusing this year on the theme “Breaking Barriers,” 7th and 8th Grade History Fair projects tackled a variety of pivotal points in history in which people broke down significant barriers to make their contributions to the world. For many of these events in history, the barriers to success were attributed to race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities that faced (and in many ways continue to face) oppression and marginalization. Topics included India’s Salt March, the Little Rock Nine, the first female medical doctor in the U.S., the Stonewall Riots, and many more.
Affinity and alliance groups continue to provide a space for Lower and Middle School students with similar identity characteristics to connect, talk, and share experiences. During the February Lower School Students of Color affinity group meeting, students learned about the Stone Palace of Great Zimbabwe, an incredible architectural and engineering feat built and occupied by an advanced African civilization in the 12th-15th centuries.
Professional Development, Parent Education, and Service
- Professional development for affinity/alliance group facilitators with Dr. Derrick Gay
- Parent event with Dr. Derrick Gay – “The How and Why of DEI Work in Schools”
- Teacher Tafe presented on social justice and identity development at the Opening Minds Conference in Chicago
- Faculty, staff, and board members attended the 2019 NAIS People of Color Conference
- A special service project allowed faculty and staff to spend a Saturday painting murals at UCAN Academy, a therapeutic day school for students with special needs, many of whom have experienced trauma
DEI Council Highlights
- Finalization of core council members and subcommittee members (click here for list)
- Review and analysis of Catherine Cook Mission and Diversity Statements
- Brainstorm of action items for each subcommittee
- Communication strategy to keep community updated on DEI efforts
- Subcommittees to hold first meetings on January 7, 2020
As part of their Identity Unit, 2nd Grade students created the Everyone Toy Store to help combat stereotypes and underrepresentation in the toy industry. Students designed and created prototypes for a wide variety of toys and games that would be inviting to all races, genders, and abilities.
8th Graders completed an overnight outing to the Darst Center, a local organization that provides windows into the lives of individuals who have experienced violence, incarceration, homelessness, and other issues in our city. The goal is for students to better understand social justice issues like these, see them from a different perspective, and consider solutions.
Preschool and Junior Kindergarten students have been examining how their families are both similar and different. Preschoolers explored the many different forms a family can take and shared some of their favorite things about their families and how they spend time together. In Junior Kindergarten, each student has the opportunity to be Family of the Week and works with their family members to create a bag of items that represents the culture(s), beliefs, values, and traditions of their family.
In November, five Middle School boys participated in the Young Men of Color Symposium at Francis W. Parker School. The event provided an opportunity for students to discuss their similar experiences, grow in their understanding of their personal identities, and develop leadership skills. Students also enjoyed an inspiring keynote address by actor and author Hill Harper.
Faculty and staff completed a full day of DEI professional development with Dr. Derrick Gay; their third session with him in the past 10 months. Topics included the concept of “blind spots,” the difference between safe and brave spaces in affinity and alliance groups, and exploration of personal identity development.
5th Grade Library Enrichment has been studying the role of identity in the literature they read and discussing how it relates to themselves and others. Students are learning about the complexity of identity, especially as different areas of identity layer and intersect. So far this year, they have explored stereotypes, gender identity, gender inequality, ability, and neighborhoods.
Additional DEI Lessons and Experiences Taking Place Around the School
- Windows and mirrors
- Fairness and equity
- Use of voice through activism
- Exploration of various holiday celebrations
- Study of Indigenous Peoples
- Building empathy through social emotional learning
- Intentional reading of literature by authors from diverse backgrounds and experiences
- Ongoing identity exploration and discussion in affinity and alliance groups
- Field trips to the National Museum of Mexican Art and Illinois Holocaust Museum
- Service learning with Food for Friends and Sweet Readers