Please describe the process of working with Pollyanna to plan your November 2018 conference?
The process was laid out through a series of open conversations where our school talked with Pollyanna about diversity, equity and inclusion issues. One thing that really drove the process was recognizing that we’re a school in the South, and are cognizant of the ways these conversations are rooted in a progressive education tradition, pride and culture. To be most inclusive and also to be authentic, we need to be mindful of how we roll out a conference that’s going to engage a variety of schools in conversation. Our goal is to have 10 schools convene in November, and to have representations from people who’ve participated in the host committee for the NAIS People of Color Conference, which was here in Atlanta just two years ago. The rollout was really intentional in seeing who’s most likely and most apt to participate, and to engage in these conversations and this work.
How did you decide the conference’s theme and title:
My Authentic Self: The Intersection of Race and Gender in Middle School?
What’s important to our school community is to engage in dialogues that are genuine and that are speaking from your own truth and being open civil discourse even when it’s difficult. We want folks to be able to be true to how they’re communicating and showing up, and to be present and engaged. Keying into some strategies and approaches for authentic dialogue or for constructive listening could be really helpful for folks, and hopefully the theme of "my authentic self" will really engender that. Interrupting folks or dismissing someone’s story, not believing them or minimizing: that’s what we want to avoid. We also want to name those are things that happen, particularly around conversations about race and gender. I think that’s going to be one of the main areas where we want to allow for dialogue, and then think about some applications when they go back to their schools.
What has the response been from invited schools?
I’ve been picking up the phone and having conversations with diversity directors, deans of student life and principles and sharing our vision for this conference. My hope is that the schools coming to the conference are picking community members who are really hungry to engage in this work at their schools, whether they’re students or board members or parents. They can really engender some impassioned dialogue and also some forward-leaning dialogue so students are engaging in healthy conversation about who they are as well as being supported at their schools, particularly along lines of race and gender. It’s important to create brave spaces for adults to engage in conversations with young people so that they know what to do in situations or who to turn to.
What do you hope The Children’s School gains from hosting a Pollyanna Conference?
I think TCS will have an opportunity to be a place where people can share who they are without pretenses. I think you can do that in respectful, civil ways, and I think our school will lead to that platform easily because we do that in so many ways already. I think this will create a stronger image and it will be backed by the people who show up and help volunteer. I imagine that folks will really be surprised that there’s a community that wants to be in solidarity with a wide variety of identities and have critical conversations, and we’re not afraid to do that.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
As a school in the South and as someone who grew up in Kentucky, I’m pretty excited that a school like this in Atlanta, Georgia exists. I was so blown away. I wonder if folks around the country know that schools like this exist and that partner schools like this exist. There are some amazing folks down here that often don’t get the light shined on the work that’s happening, so continue to keep your eyes and ears open for what’s happening here in the South. We’re excited to be a part of it.