Digging Deeper into DEI: Creating Culturally Responsive Curricula at Carroll School

  • Dyslexia News
Osa Osagie, Director of Equity and Inclusion


Carroll’s DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) journey has been organic and beautiful. Four years ago, when I came to Carroll, members of our community were beginning to challenge our thinking around DEI. This includes NEASC, a regional accreditation body for K-12 schools and colleges located within New England. Despite well meaning intentions, there were noticeable parts of student, faculty, staff, and family identities that the school was not serving as deeply as they desired.  

Carroll has always done an excellent job serving kids who are diverse thinkers and who tend to see the world differently. As a school that  came out of the disability rights movement and has a mission that is rooted in social justice principles, the faculty and staff understand how to affirm and celebrate differences. With this framework in place, I came to Carroll with the lens of thinking, “This is the perfect place to do DEI really well.” 

Carroll School's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Work

Carroll’s DEI work has been built upon the school’s expert understanding of what it means to support kids who learn differently and applying that understanding to connect with other forms of human difference into our work as teachers, learners, and community members. Our first few years focused on laying the framework for becoming a more diverse and equitable community. Faculty training and PLC (professional learning community) discussion groups provided all Carroll faculty and staff the time to gain DEI knowledge while developing a shared language. The goal of the PLCs, in particular, is to provide a safe space for our adult community to reflect, to talk, and to listen. Together, we have learned about our own perspectives and have had brave conversations with each other about: What does it mean to have a racial identity? What does it mean to be part of a majority group or part of a marginalized group? What does race mean as compared to the meaning of racism? 

In our PLCs last year, we introduced scenario-based practices. We took time to talk about challenging, hypothetical but realistic DEI related situations that could occur both inside and outside of the classroom. Then, we took the time to practice what one can do in response. As the year progressed, I noticed that the PLCs began to take shape as a think tank, in which faculty and staff were coming together to brainstorm ways to handle real-life DEI situations that they had encountered. Based on the positive feedback that I received from various faculty and staff members, my intention is to continue to expand those discussions this year.

One of the unexpected benefits of our DEI work at Carroll has been seeing how much our colleagues have been inspired by each other - in their classrooms or in their own communities. Faculty and staff have shared how they feel challenged to think differently and have grown more comfortable around the idea of sharing personal experiences and helpful resources. It’s clear that our community has become invested in this work and, as their awareness develops, they are becoming more confident learning, participating, and growing.

Having this important framework in place, we are now expanding our brave conversations to include our students and families while we continue to challenge ourselves. Current events in the world around us and the shifting social political climate provide a timely opportunity to think about what we have learned through our DEI work, find the opportunities where we need to do more learning, and empower people to take action in their communities. For our faculty who work directly with students, this training has been especially helpful. It's provided the skills to responsively educate students and create a better understanding of what's happening in the world around them.

Culturally-responsive Curriculum at Carroll School

So what do we take from all the conversations we’ve been having around race in our country and the work we’ve been doing as a Carroll community? It became evident to me this summer that now is a perfect time to bring a culturally responsive curriculum into the Carroll classroom. Fortunately, I have the help and support of my talented colleagues and Carroll leadership. Middle School Integration Specialist for DEI, History, & ELA Curriculum, Micah Wittmer, spearheaded the process of creating a framework and curriculum called Brave Conversations. This curriculum, created for our Middle and Upper School students, encourages discussion around race, gender expression, identity, class, and other forms of human difference. 

In the Lower School, we are introducing a social justice unit as part of our 4th and 5th grade history curriculum so our students can engage in age-appropriate conversations while younger children in our Beginning Readers, 2nd, and 3rd grades will be introduced to these topics through culturally responsive projects and books that are woven into their everyday lessons. In the 3rd grade, for example, the history curriculum centers around early America. Our teachers are thinking about how to present indigenous perspectives in a different way, where oftentimes they are either misinterpreted, erased completely, or silenced. The DEI academic work that is being implemented across the divisions is impressive and I’m so thrilled to see it come to life this year.

My DEI goal this year is to develop a shared language amongst our whole community, especially the students. For some students, the topics may be new or uncomfortable. We want to bring them to a place where they feel comfortable learning and discussing, and where they feel that they have the strategies to be able to advocate for themselves or to speak up in response to an injustice. Also, my hope is that our children across all spectrums of difference feel seen and feel affirmed. For those students who are one of the few, I want them to have a community of students and faculty that can see, understand, and support their experiences.

When I think about the Carroll of the future, I hope the message is that Carroll School is a school for language-based learning difficulty learners across all domains of diversity and a community for adults who are excited about and see the value in working with students and adults who come from all walks of life. 

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