Imagining Diversity

The threads of Diversity at Maple Street School:

Dynamic, Nurturing, Safe, and Playful

When you take a tour of Maple Street School and look around, you will see a lot of Brooklyn there, and a lot of the world. Some of this is shining evidently in the classrooms, or is in the children’s faces and the teachers’ voices as we sing about feelings or family. Some is reflected in our teachers’ daily commitments from the food they make at cafe, to the the books they read, to the conversations they have that let each child and adult in the classroom know they are safe and that they matter. Some of this is in the commitment of our board and cooperative to provide financial aid and to invest, through time and money, in our school so more children from families with low incomes can attend. And some of this is in small and large gestures, threads of learning and practice, that teach us new ways to see and be our children, families, teachers, staff, community and the world.

So when I am giving a tour of our school, I am often asked how do you define diversity? I do provide some of the deeply important, changing, and always-missing-someone list of lesbian gay bisexual, and transgender families, gender-fluid children, single parent families, race, income level, access to resources, culture, language, religion, ethnicity, family makeup, adoptive families, families with special needs and more.

The “more” is the expansive part, and is key because that is where it feels like we are now and that’s what we are beginning to do now: develop a collective and dynamic definition of diversity that serves our children and their families on a daily basis through learning and practice.

This definition of diversity is formed and reformed through:

  1. Observing and learning about children’s, teacher’s, staff’s and family’s needs and visions
  2. Listening to families and prospective families
  3. Learning through ongoing education, training and feedback
  4. Building collective and reflective leadership
  5. Navigating different opinions in a respectful, kind way, in service to the physical and emotional safety and well being of children and all of their grown-ups
  6. Assessing policies, procedures, and a responsibilities through a lens of diversity and inclusion
  7. Paying attention and having intention around the moments in the day, and our attitudes toward them, and our practices in them to value diversity, inclusion and community
  8. Understanding we all make mistakes, and through accountability and growth we further develop our community

Maple Street’s definition of diversity is dynamic. I remember five or so years ago there was pain and conflict over the celebration of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. A single parent family was concerned about celebrating Father’s Day as her daughter had no father. I agreed to not celebrate these days and then was met with a lot of resistance from the cooperative and families, and did not know what to do. I could not hold up my agreement, and apologized to this family knowing I backed out of my promise. What I learned from this is that my voice is a strong voice in this cooperative. But it is not the only voice. After listening and learning for two more years, Maple Street replaced Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with Family Day, celebrating all of our families in their mommy mama daddy papa grandma auntie friend ways. I know in the future this could change again and again with more learning for all of us. Additionally perhaps there are practices, holidays, language that I or we have not noticed yet that can become more inclusive and reflective of our school.

Maple Street’s definition of diversity includes nurturing: thoughtfully and compassionately caring for every child and grown-up for who they are. This does not mean allowing all kinds of behavior, but having the capacity to love and care for all the children and families that come to and through our school. It means reflecting on our own upbringing and sometimes surrendering to a different kind of behavior, teaching, style or more. When I first came to Maple Street, and I heard Ann Marie speak, it often did not sound like textbook early childhood. Then I watched as families and children fell in love with her idioms, culture and style, and I fell deeply in love too. When we hear something we are not used to, we must ask ourselves does this child or grown up feel good and loved, and not just whether teachers and children are acting like we expect them too. Today when a young girl spoke about her mother giving birth, a teacher asked her, “are you going to take care of the baby? She replied, “We all are, my family is a team.” We all are here at Maple Street too, everyone matters, everyone is part of the team. We all are nurturing each other.

Maple Street’s definition of diversity also includes safety, both physical and emotional. When someone in our community feels unsafe, it is our job to help them. This can be a child feeling teased or unincluded, a parent feeling like their issue is minimized, a teacher feeling vulnerable, or an administrator feeling isolated. The work of early childhood has risk in it and caring for each other through policy, practice, communication, and compassion is necessary to thrive.

Finally Maple Street’s definition of diversity is playful. I announce on tours that children at Maple Street School can be whoever they would like to be, as different as they want to be. They can wear dresses, or superhero clothes, or change their name to Thor, or Supergirl or Princess Awesome. Adults also get to imagine and become their roles at Maple Street through conversations, volunteer/coop work, and having fun. Adults can dress up too, and I have seen astronauts, clowns, superheroes and more over the years.

About two weeks ago, a parent returned to Maple Street after many years. Her children are eleven, nine, and a new two. We were discussing our families; hers African/Caribbean/American and mine Multiracial, African American, Irish and Jewish. She explained to me that her daughter has been invited to her first Bat Mitzvah. I replied, “amazing,” and we discussed the Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. Then I explained that we were not going to Barmitzvah our children because we were not religious and it did not resonate as did travel and other special things. She replied, “You have to, you have to Barmitzvah your children.” And while I did not have to, I adored this moment as one thread of many that makes our community so dynamic, nurturing, safe, playful and diverse

This is a lot of words, and I am a diversity and inclusion learner like you. I am a white Jewish woman growing older, slowly tripping and falling often here at Maple Street, and getting up each time knowing that my accountability and vision, along with yours, can shift Maple Street into what we imagine together.