By Brian Crawford
It is an accepted fact that a diverse learning environment enhances learning, empathy, and community. Vital to The Downtown School’s mission is that we are committed to sustaining a school in which individuals representing diverse cultures and experiences.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion represent a journey, however, not an end product. Indeed, simply having a diverse student population is not enough for students and the community to reap the benefits of diversity; the curricula must be inclusive, students and teachers must acknowledge and address implicit bias, and students’ differing life experiences must be brought to bear on their—and the community’s—learning.
All journeys begin with a starting point—a status quo that will hopefully change over the course of the journey. During our first year, the diversity of The Downtown School student population has emerged in a number of ways, both among the student body and in the curriculum:
Educational Diversity: Our current 43 students come from 32 different feeder schools. These include public, private, Waldorf, charter, homeschool, and alternative schools. In class and the community, this has translated to a wide variety of approaches to learning, collaboration, and projects—approaches that have brought new and valuable perspectives on concepts and skills.
Socio-Economic Diversity: Our students hail from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and, therefore, difference in life experiences that inform perspectives on classroom topics and community initiatives. Currently, 7% of our students receive financial aid, a number that we will--through a growing endowment—increase in the years to come to 30%. This will allow The Downtown School to be more financially inclusive to more students and families across the socio-economic spectrum.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity: 30.5% of Seattle residents identify as people of color--a percentage that closely mirrors the 33% of The Downtown School students. 38% of the incoming 2019-2020 cohort also identify as people of color. This shift marks an increase in the rich variety of life experiences that students have already been able to draw upon to learn, share, and learn from.
LGBTQ Diversity: The teenage years are characterized by the process of building identity and understanding ourselves as whole and separate human beings. Issues of gender identity and sexual orientation are particularly fraught at this time and creating not only a safe, but also a welcoming, inclusive and celebratory environment for students of all identities is paramount. Some ways we create this space is by including texts that address non-heteronormative experiences in our classes, especially English, History and Spanish. We also interface closely with parents and guardians of students who are working through an LGBTQ identity process to make sure we are mindful as they get to the place where they can share their true selves on their own terms.
Religious Diversity: Over a quarter of our school community openly identify as Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. Students’ wealth of understanding of religion has already enhanced humanities discussions on the presence of religious allusions in texts, philosophy, ethnomath, and cultural phenomena such as the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Curricular Diversity: Recognizing the importance that students see their identities reflected in the curriculum, our teachers have actively sought to infuse their curricula with diverse viewpoints and alternative ways of considering topics. From analyzing works of literature from Burundi, China, England, Russia, Japan, India, Iran, the United States, Ghana, and Antigua in English class; to challenging students’ assumptions about race by learning in Science about selective evolutionary pressures; to projects in History viewing different races’ experiences of belonging to “We the People”; to understanding the math behind Seattle housing segregation, applying math to understand Arabic art and create Arabic-inspired art, to exploring ethnomath in eastern Asian art; to in-depth explorations In Spanish of the wide variety of Spanish-speaking cultures; students at The Downtown School have plunged into their journeys into the diversity that makes up our world.
We recognize that The Downtown School is just embarking on our path for creating and cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community of students, teachers, and families. We are excited to continue this journey, to learn, to grow, and to question our own assumptions and implicit biases as we “instruct one another in the meaning and value of community and in the joy and importance of lifelong learning.”