By Jake Davis, School Counselor
Last week, the National Association of Independent Schools hosted its annual People of Color Conference in Anaheim, California. Bess McKinney and I had the opportunity to attend along with 6,000 other educators and students from all over the country. This year’s theme was “Voices for Equity and Justice Now and for Every Generation.” While there, I gained knowledge and understanding that I am certain will impact my work at school, in the larger community, and at home.
One analogy described by a speaker stood out to me. She described independent schools as some of the most beautiful pools created for fish to thrive. The problem with these pools is that some fish are more successful because the pools have been created with them in mind. When other fish enter the pool, they can swim but they may not thrive. The truth is, the most beautiful pools contain a variety of fish from different backgrounds and with different perspectives and abilities. EPS is continually striving to create environments for all students to flourish. In fact, Eastside Prep’s mission encompasses this through critical thinking, responsible action, compassionate leadership, and wise innovation. EPS was founded to be an independent school that would be different—providing a rich learning experience for a diverse population of students. We also understand that this work is never complete.
Part of our process is taking a deep look at our practices, coming to terms with our own inherent biases, and understanding the student experience. EPS is currently doing this in a multitude of ways. Last year our faculty formed their own inclusion and equity group. This began with a deep dive into understanding our own identities and responsibility to educate ourselves in this area. We started by examining privilege, exploring the impact of microaggressions, presenting our own racial autobiographies, and discussing what it means to create a “brave space” in our classrooms. In addition, Bess McKinney and Jess Claesson sponsoring the new student equity and inclusion club. This club springs from a call from students—who attended last year’s NWAIS Diversity Leadership Retreat—to continue the work and conversations they began at that conference, and is thus very much student-driven. These conversations have addressed cultural appropriation, gender and power and the culture of silence, living with mental illness in the context of our internet culture, class and how it shows up in our lives at EPS. We are also preparing to send ten Middle School students to the NWAIS Diversity retreat in Portland, Oregon this February. Students will meet peers throughout the northwest, experience affinity groups, and learn from a variety of engaging speakers over this weekend.
Our faculty continues to examine our Commitment to Care through listening groups as we prepare for our self-study for re-accreditation. EPS is dedicated to continuing our work in this area: challenging assumptions, and striving to ensure our students equitably access our mission points.
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.