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Diversity & Inclusion Update | Spring 2021

A Message from Carlaina Bell

When I am asked about diversity and inclusion efforts this school year, my first response is often that we didn't do much. I am reminded that we have not collectively revisited the themes of White Fragility that we began in the fall, nor have we held workshops during in-service days. Rightfully so, MKA’s focus has been on teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrative meetings are consumed by the day-to-day logistics of running a school in a pandemic; department meetings are dedicated to the craft of teaching in a hybrid model; and grade-level meetings are focused on maintaining students’ social emotional well-being. However, when I pause and really reflect on the school year, I realize that many of the diversity and inclusion initiatives and training that the faculty has engaged in over the years have been internalized and have become part of the fabric of the school -- and they have managed to persevere in big and small ways despite COVID-19.

Even though we haven't engaged in intentional professional development on anti-racism, we have continued to revise curriculum, respond to our country’s struggle with racism, better understand allyship, make personal commitments to disrupt racism, and we have cared for each other at a time when it feels like our country may never become a place where we are all valued for who we are. Teachers have engaged students in conversation on complex topics such as the effects of the pandemic on Black and brown communities, the presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial, and anti-Asian hate. Community Discussions at the Upper School still occurred, and the Middle School participated in its first Day of Silence to show support for members of the LGBTQ+ community. We still recognized National Hispanic Heritage and Black History Months, and we will highlight the positive influence of Asians and Asian culture for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) month, occurring now. Our affinity groups are growing, and students continue to lead MKA’s effort to be an inclusive and equitable school. There is a board-level Anti-Racism Task Force, and our parents are partnering with the school in ways that they have never before. The school also has support from families and alumni who have made a philanthropic investment in our diversity and inclusion initiatives this year, allowing us to not only maintain but evolve this important work for our school community.

I am really proud of the faculty who were faced with a year in which they have had to reinvent how they educate children. I am especially proud and grateful for the dedication and commitment of the members of the Diversity and Inclusion team: Meg Arcadia, Breanna Conley, Roshni Shah, Yesenia Ravelo-Rodriguez, Shanie Israel, and Leslie-Ann Murray. 

I hope you will enjoy a few examples of how MKA has been engaged in diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism throughout the school. For more information about diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism at MKA, please visit our Diversity and Inclusion webpage.

Carlaina Bell, Ed.D. 
Assistant Head of School for Diversity, Inclusion, & Anti-Racism
Assistant Head of Middle School


The Importance of Honoring Students Identities 

As a part of providing a multicultural education for MKA students, faculty are committed to: honoring their students’ narratives; providing multiple perspectives within their disciplines; providing all students opportunities to understand themselves, other members of the MKA community, and the global society; and ensuring that MKA is a safe environment in which to explore and discuss multiple perspectives, ask challenging questions, and create positive social change.

Assembly Programs

The Middle School assembly program has provided a place where students can share personal experiences about their identities with the community. Middle and Upper School students have shared their struggles and lessons learned in an attempt to encourage all students to embrace their identities, be proud of who they are, and feel empowered to overcome adversity. Student speakers have included Leah Glaser, Lily Piede, and Peyton Vincent. In March, three students who identify as Asian-American, Jaiden Park, Chelsea Shey, and Lindsey Yu, shared their stories.

View Excerpts from the Students’ Stories

A Poem from a Middle School Student

Watch as sixth grader Ally Dueno recites her poem about a personal aspect of her identity at a recent assembly.

Guest Speakers

The Upper and Middle School campuses welcomed activist and speaker Keri Gray. Ms. Gray discussed the intersectionality of her three identities of being Black, a woman, and disabled. She underscored the importance of schools cultivating inclusive environments where everyone can express the fullness of their identities and be their best selves. She cautioned students against letting anyone determine their worthiness. Ms. Gray included a quote by Maya Angelou in her presentation, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Ms. Gray will continue working with MKA and students more closely in the fall.

Identity Work at the Primary School

Primary School students examined themselves as individuals via their own unique traits. Students learned the value in understanding that there are parts of themselves that other people can see and parts that are hidden from immediate sight. They explored concepts of race, gender, religion, language, and family structure among others, as well as their identities as belonging to various groups, including within their own classroom and within MKA. In a second-grade interdisciplinary writing and art project, students created a torn paper self-portrait, completed an identity web, and wrote an identity statement.











Addressing Asian Hate

One of the foundational aspects of providing a multicultural education for students is addressing societal issues as they occur. Teachers at MKA know the importance of acknowledging and helping students understand and grapple with what is occurring in the world. Upon returning to school after spring break, the Heads of Campus addressed the community to clarify MKA’s stance against Asian hate which was followed by advisor group conversations about the tragic events in Atlanta and the increased racism that members of the Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander community have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. To support these conversations, the Middle School History Department adjusted lesson plans to include the historical context for anti-Asian sentiment in America. In addition, Diversity and Inclusion coordinators and campus administrators hosted affinity spaces for students and faculty to process their feelings. Our youngest learners at the Primary School participated in anti-bullying lessons that focused on kindness, respect, and being up-standers (rather than bystanders), and Middle School teachers Ms. Sunnie Minn and Mrs. Susan Hansen launched the first AAPI Affinity Group for Middle School students.

The image below and artist statement by seventeen-year-old artist Rebecca Wong from Tenafly, New Jersey, served as the springboard for dialogue in grades four through twelve during advisor period.

Artist Statement“2020 didn’t ignite the waves of Asian racism. It was already there.

I’ve seen the Asian community strive to be “more American.” I saw my family disassociate themselves from the community. I purposefully never learned Cantonese in hopes of making myself “more American.” I thought it was in my best interest. I erased my own culture willingly in hopes of fitting in — it’s always purposeful whitewashing, the strive to Americanize in hopes to be accepted. But you’ll still see the person I tried to erase. I cannot wash my culture away; it will always stay. The racism will always stay. At least paint is washable.”
-Rebecca Wong, Tenafly

The Importance of Disrupting Racism: A Speech by Diversity Coordinator Yesenia Ravelo-Rodriguez 

Giving students vocabulary is an essential part of anti-racism teaching. Students in advisory practiced with scenarios centered on microaggressions based on real-life experiences of students at MKA. If you have read posts on black@mka_, many of the stories are based on hurtful language and insensitive comments. In addition to educating students about microaggressions, we have to give them tools to confront them.

In April, Ms. Ravelo-Rodriguez addressed the Middle School community to encourage students to stand up against hate and racism. She stated, “We might not have control over what the rest of the world does, yet we do have control over ourselves, thus improving our community and making it that much better and safer.”

Listen to Her Speech

Affinity Groups

Affinity groups are becoming increasingly more present and active at MKA. They serve as a safe place for identity affirmation, sharing experiences, and support.

Black Affinity Groups for Students Begin at the Primary School

Affinity groups for Black girls and Black boys, led by Mrs. Breanna Conley and Mr. Chae Anderson, began this spring. Conversations are inspired by literature (see books below), music, and positive affirmations. Students meet bi-weekly after school. Middle and Upper school students also participate to interact with the younger students and strengthen campus relationships.

Formation of New Northern New Jersey Black Student Union

Upper School student Shelby Carter has been working with Head of Upper School Dr. Flooco to establish the North Jersey Independent Schools Black Student Union (NJISBSU). NJISBSU is expected to officially begin in the fall of 2021. It will be a coalition of Black students at northern New Jersey predominately white institutions (PWIs) that will promote unity, foster communication, and provide opportunities for students to connect to students outside of their school. NJISBSU will dedicate its efforts to making private schools in northern NJ more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist.

Parents and the Board of Trustees Engage in Anti-Racism Work

Parent Conversations

Over thirty MKA parents will learn about racism and participate in small-group conversations about race, using the documentary series America to Me, the Nice White Parents podcasts, and other media sources. This opportunity is provided by the Montclair Community Learning Circles on Race. Group conversations will be facilitated by parents from the Diversity and Inclusion Parent Committee (DIPC): Karen Gulliver, Michelle Dice, Sylvia Hernandez, Mary Valentine, Monique French-Brown, and Lisa Hyman Sackman.

Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF)

In consultation with Equity Literacy Institute, the ARTF has been engaged in creating a Vision and Commitment Statement which will guide its charge to support the school in taking deliberate and systemic action to be an anti-racist school. The Vision and Commitment Statement will be released in late May, followed by a set of recommendations that will advance anti-racism in all facets of school life.