How do you think Far Brook has benefited from hosting the Pollyanna conferences?
It has been a tremendous experience! We feel so honored to have been asked to host. When we first considered it we thought briefly we might only offer the conference to other K-8 schools, but decided to open it up to all the independent schools in the area instead. This has been hugely beneficial in building relationships with diversity practitioners at local schools, and we find that having high school student voices is essential. We’ve also clearly put a stake in the ground as leaders in championing diversity. The conference helped us redouble our own efforts and commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity internally. It is now a part of who we are, and has given us permission to delve more deeply.
I can’t say enough about the format of conference. The idea is genius! I can surely see it spreading throughout the country…and we feel honored to be a host school.
How did you decide on the topic of LGBTQ+ for your second conference?
At Far Brook, we understand and celebrate that diversity is a broad term and covers many identities. Over a number of years and through other vehicles we have talked about race. We felt that we hadn’t spent as much time on other aspects of diversity, so here was our chance. Our Conference Co-Chairs determined that we would focus the conference on LGBTQ+ inclusion. Before embarking on organizing this year’s conference, the faculty read a series of papers titled “Queering Education.” This in-depth study helped guide us in our discussions. We feel that as a school it is our responsibility to our families and community to create a means and a safe space for these conversations. Our Co-Chairs invited a psychologist in to talk to the conference committee, leaving us to realize we still had a lot to learn. The psychologist worked with us throughout the conference, helping us to frame it, as well as to understand the breadth of the topic and those that were related.
Can you explain how your bank came to be a conference sponsor?
In collaboration with our Head of School, Director of Business and Finance, and the Director of Development, who is also a conference committee member, we knew that our bank was open to opportunities to sponsor an event at Far Brook. We wanted something consistent with our mission, but understood that this was a different type of event than many banks typically sponsor. While the conference itself is self-sustaining, to get a speaker of a known name, such as Charles Blow, requires additional funding, so we proposed the idea of being a sponsor to them. They were thrilled with the idea because they have relationships with many of the schools that participate in the conference, and also because it gave them a chance to demonstrate their own commitment to diversity..
How has the conference impacted your overall diversity goals at Far Brook?
In many ways. Out of the first conference, my position of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Community was created. The recognition of the need for more focus and resources dedicated to equity and inclusion is definitely an outgrowth of the conference. Another is the encouragement to create vehicles for our students to talk about these topics and how they impact their Far Brook experience. Far Brook doesn’t have a student government and while we had Spectrum, a social justice discussion group for students after school, as well as Advisory Groups, there really wasn’t a good mechanism for discussion and input around topics of diversity. We are still working on this but we have a better understanding of the importance of student voices. We have recently incorporated affinity group lunches for students, with faculty hosts. We are creating a safe space for seventh and eighth graders to discuss gender and sexuality. In general, all of our classes are integrating LGBTQ narratives more intentionally since we hosted the second conference. Everyone feels more empowered. One particular highlight happened at our daily morning meeting, when we meet as a whole school, grades K through 8. We read, “I am Jazz” as part of a national read-in. It is the story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl who has become an activist. That was a special day and may not have happened without the work we did leading up to and during the conference. So many possibilities have opened up!