Living Our Mission in the Lower School
An interview with Abby Zwetchkenbaum, 5th Grade Teacher and DEI Coordinator
The DEI Coordinator is a newly formed volunteer role that started at the Lower School this year. We sat down with Abby Zwetchkenbaum, 5th Grade Language Arts Teacher, 5th Grade Team Lead, and DEI Coordinator, to hear about how this role is making an impact at Carroll.
What is a DEI Coordinator?
Abby: The DEI coordinator position began as a way to ensure we have someone in every grade level at the Lower School thinking of ways to include diversity, equity, and inclusion in our curricula. Together, the DEI coordinators make sure each grade includes all kinds of holidays, talking points around current events, and opportunities for social justice conversations.
Why is this work personally important to you?
Abby: I became a teacher because it was an actionable way for me to connect with students and make a difference in their lives—making sure all my students felt valued, safe, and included. Before taking on my role as a DEI coordinator, I worked to incorporate equity and inclusion into the activities and projects I was planning. What books are we choosing? Whose stories are we reading? How do we include a diverse mix of voices into the Language Arts curricula?
In my work as DEI coordinator, and in our faculty learning groups this year, we have also been thinking about inclusive vocabulary. What do all these terms mean, and why are they important?
All of this work aligns with my personal mission to make the world a better place through how I educate my students.
How does your work as a DEI Coordinator play out in the classroom?
Abby: Last year, our 4th and 5th Grade students took a class in social justice. This year, the Lower School added a schoolwide “Team Time” class to focus on DEI topics and conversations. In the 5th Grade, we did a project on heritage, through which we invited students to think about their own heritage: where they come from, the story behind their name, and so on.
Our goal was to have each student consider their own identity before we moved onto activities around perspective-taking. It’s important for our students to know who they are before they can understand others.
How do you see the school’s mission in this work?
Abby: We’ve spent a lot of time over the past three years focusing on diversity with our faculty and staff, and now it's filtering into the classrooms. We’re better able to infuse this focus into the School’s mission and culture when we’re intentional about ensuring different people's voices and perspectives are heard.
I think this work also gives teachers permission to design curricula to ensure we’re seeing things in the most inclusive way possible. We are asking “Who is included when I plan this lesson?” versus “How do I teach this lesson?” It’s a shift in perspective that makes all the difference.
What have been some highlights of your role as DEI coordinator?
One of the highlights has continued to be getting together as the DEI coordinator group, brainstorming different curriculum ideas, and thinking about ways to deal with certain situations.
I have also enjoyed incorporating DEI activities into our morning meetings and “Team Time” blocks in a more intentional way. In February, for Black History Month, we spent time spotlighting different black people--not just those who overcame strife, but brilliant people doing brilliant things. These are conversations we should be having all the time, though—not just for one month.
What do you love about this work?
Abby: School is a beautiful place to talk to young people—to help them to think about things critically, and to show them ways to be inclusive. When they have these conversations as children, it helps them to become more empathetic later in life—and to become people who make a real difference in the world around them.
This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection 22-23: Living our mission every day as an inclusive community of learners
- Carroll Connection 2022-23