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Faculty and staff at Guilford Central School recognize the importance of diversity and equity as a central tenet of their work with students. Indeed, many studies show that when both students and teachers are equipped with these important lessons, their overall learning environment is enhanced and learning outcomes are improved as both students and teachers have the tools to better empathize with people of different backgrounds and beliefs, reduce prejudice, foster creativity and improve student achievement, which benefits them later in life. In an increasingly globally-connected world, they recognize the heightened challenges we have faced in our country – and in our communities – with issues related to race, ethnicity, culture and difference.

As part of this important work, GCS joined with the national coalition Black Lives Matter at School in learning more about racial justice in education, and in doing so has focused on the first four values of the Black Lives Matter movement: Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement, and Diversity. These are ideas that not only represent Black Lives Matter, but are values that the educators at GCS hold central to their pedagogical practice. Through year-round staff meetings focused on diversity and equity, teachers and staff seek to expand their understanding of these principles and incorporate them into everyday learning objectives. Here are a few ways that the principles are showing up in school.

In all classrooms, there are always opportunities for resolving conflict. For example, in early childhood classrooms a block tower could get knocked down. Teachers talk about what restorative justice looks like in a moment where a child might feel hurt, sad, or offended by their tower being knocked down. Educators know it is important for children to be able to make choices that build each other up so when a block tower is knocked down, they model and teach to not just say sorry and walk away, but to help the other child rebuild it. It is the adult’s job to help children make better choices, and to give them opportunities to do so. Importantly, these lessons also benefit those involved in such incidents and all who observe and engage within our classrooms.

In the very youngest grades, teachers spend a great deal of time helping students to develop empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of another. At the basis of empathy is emotion recognition. In pre-k and kindergarten, students read books, play games, and learn specific strategies for solving social problems, which focus largely on attention to others’ feelings. This important work provides the foundation for the further development of empathy, a trait that we can all agree helps children become thoughtful and caring humans.

Loving engagement is taught and practiced in many organic ways across grade levels and throughout each school day. All classes start each day with a morning meeting, where students connect with each other through greetings, sharing something about themselves, and/or games and activities. Students are taught to treat those around them with fairness and respect in all subjects and classes throughout their time at GCS.

The importance of diversity is taught throughout the grade levels, and teachers explore this theme often with read alouds, activities, and discussions, including through lesson materials that showcase diverse backgrounds and experiences. Students are encouraged to recognize and honor differences in others, as well as understand and celebrate their own unique identities. At GCS, educators strive to instill curiosity and respect for people of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities, gender identities, and abilities in their students.

The importance for educators to have shared and commonly understood values cannot be understated, as values form the foundation for actions. The teachers at Guilford Central School have been grateful to focus efforts on these values that align with the Black Lives Matters movement, and are committed to learning, driving and reinforcing diversity and equity across the board. GCS continues to work through these principles year round, connecting them to the work they do on a daily basis as a foundational part of learning.

The Guilford Central School Diversity and Equity Committee includes: John Gagnon, principal; Maira Arteaga, diversity and equity teacher leader; Hillary Katz, teacher; Emma Hallowell, teacher; Amit Sharma, parent; Tosha Tillman, parent; Erin Tkaczyk, parent; Sandra and Scott Mathes, parents; Jacob Leach, parent; Jenny Conathan, parent; Laurie Schneski, parent; Sam Schneski, parent; Thayer Tomlinson, parent; Maggie Foley, parent.