Heads Up: A Continued Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Social Justice
A Message from the Head of School Gina Panza
I recently had the opportunity to read St. Thomas’s Day School Guide Book – a publication written and illustrated by Mrs. Lindley’s third grade class in the spring of 1993. This book tells all about St Thomas’s Day School from the third grade point-of-view. Gym Night, Field Day, birthday pennies, field trips and “tuns of fun on the playground” were some major highlights.
I was immediately struck by the similarities between the well-known favorites of our current third grade students and those of Mrs. Lindley’s class over 25 years ago. It was heartwarming to learn that many experiences and traditions of long ago still remain beloved hallmarks of our school today.
Another commonality that links our past to current day St. Thomas’s Day School is our unwavering commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice. From its inception, St. Thomas’s Day School has been deeply committed to motivate children of diverse races, creeds and backgrounds to become independent thinkers who appreciate, understand and serve others.
Over the past few years, our collective efforts to strengthen the links between our educational philosophy and institutional equity at St. Thomas’s has progressed. We regularly examine our curriculum, current practices and traditions to assess appropriateness and assure we are delivering an equitable and culturally responsive program. As such, increased engagement in leading accountable social justice work in our classrooms has been noted.
For example, for over 30 years, second graders at St. Thomas’s have shared their learning about the history of New Haven by portraying their own immigrant ancestors in the class play, “Coming to New Haven.” Over the course of those years the play has evolved to incorporate the beautiful diversity of our community. We continue to work to increase our sensitivity and awareness to the accurate and age-appropriate telling of our shared history.
This year the second grade teachers have expanded student choice to include not only personal stories of relatives and/or ancestors who immigrated to America, but also stories of influential people from New Haven and people who have made important contributions to New Haven. Additionally, the teachers continue to work to fairly tell the story of the meeting between the settlers and New Haven’s first people, the Quinnipiacs.
Our third grade Native American unit has added a present day perspective in addition to solely learning the historical content. The fifth grade has implemented a book club whereby novels have been carefully chosen to support themes of social justice. They are also reading stories from a variety of perspectives and texts from diverse authors.
Our unique community of different perspectives and talents greatly enhances our ability to provide students with authentic and thought-provoking experiences. This month we are excited to embark on our 2nd Annual Parent Speaker Series for upper school students. Some topics include: Social Justice in Japan and Australia, Pan-Africanism & African Diaspora, Representations of Indigenous People in (White) Colonial America, The Criminal Justice System, Is Justice Blind? and Limitations of the United Nations.
In addition, this winter we welcomed Hanifa Washington, equity specialist, to our community. Ms. Washington will be working with our students, faculty and parent community to deepen our individual and collective awareness and knowledge about how to develop and implement culture, practices, curriculum and policies that are rooted in equity, inclusivity and belonging.
I’m confident that the work we are engaging in today will help equip our students with the necessary skills to fight for what they believe is just and right. We remain committed to continue this work as we prepare our children to be the change agents that will make this a better world.