Building community has always been at the heart of the Forest Ridge experience. From designing a rigorous and globally integrated academic program for young women to providing opportunities for social and emotional growth, Forest Ridge has long been committed to cultivating strong, genuine and purposeful relationships as it carries out its holistic program. As we ﬁnd ourselves engulfed in a global pandemic—learning and working from the conﬁnes of our own spaces—while simultaneously having to breathe through the intensifying national pain brought about by racial injustice, the Forest Ridge mantra of “relationships come ﬁrst” has never felt more apropos. More than ever, we need to nurture meaningful and supportive ties with each other, and to ensure the existence of an open and inclusive community that celebrates diversity, functions equitably and stands for justice. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee at Forest Ridge, led by Dr. Maritza Tavarez-Brown of the high school Science Department, has taken on this goal. The committee is currently engaged in developing a program of DEI activities and learning opportunities for the 2020-21 school year for students, parents, faculty, staff and alumnae. The committee’s areas of focus include, but are not limited to:
- Integrating the school’s DEI strategy and standards with the social-emotional curriculum of the student Advisory Program.
- Designing an inclusive and multicultural curriculum cognizant of varied perspectives and muted histories.
- A parent education series on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Regular professional development/DEI training for faculty and staff.
All these, however, are not simply reactions to the issues of the day. They have been rooted in the Forest Ridge Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan devised by a working group of faculty and staff in 2018. Our 2018 DEI Action Plan—rooted in the Sacred Heart Goals and Criteria, the Forest Ridge DEI Statement and the NWAIS Commitment to Care Standards—was envisioned as a three-year program guided by six goals. The goals (outlined in the following box) reﬂect the School’s commitment to enhance the student experience at Forest Ridge by:
- Designing inclusive and equitable programmatic opportunities.
- Investing in, and providing resources for, DEI work across the Forest Ridge community.
To push the work forward, the position of DEI Coordinator was ofﬁcially created in 2019, ﬁlled by Dr. Tavarez-Brown. Throughout the 2019-20 school year, Forest Ridge witnessed the growth of the Black Student Union, together with the creation of more student afﬁnity spaces in the high school such as Nuestra Vida LatinX Club. We saw a strengthened partnership with Rainier Scholars, a local non-proﬁt organization that offers a pathway to college graduation for hard-working, low-income students of color, and DEI-themed advisory activities such as the 9th grade experience workshops and 7th and 8th grade Advisory seminars on race and identity. Simultaneously, faculty and staff were also provided professional development opportunities. They attended the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (PoCC) and received in-service training on topics such as inclusive language and grading for equity. They joined DEI book reads and virtual conversations about systemic racism and antiracist practices. These advances in our DEI work paved the way for Forest Ridge to receive grants from the Fulcrum Foundation for two consecutive years, with this year’s grant funding the implementation of the Action Plan through the 2020-21 school year. We have seen great strides in integrating diversity, equity and inclusion in the work we do at Forest Ridge. But there are goals yet to be met and opportunities to be seized. In order to more effectively understand our students’ educational experience and respond to their needs, the DEI Committee intends to:
- Collect and analyze new data from students that will inﬂuence programmatic decisions.
- Develop a framework that intersects social-emotional learning (SEL) standards and antiracist practices to inform programming from grades 5-12.
- Develop more afﬁnity spaces in both the middle school and high school.
At the beginning of the current school year, Dr. Erika Lorenzana Del Villar of the Social Studies and Religion Departments joined Dr. Tavarez-Brown to work more closely on these aspects of our DEI work, especially in the middle school. The DEI Committee has also begun envisioning what DEI/SEL integration might look like for speciﬁc grade levels with the aim of launching some activities in Advisory or community times before the end of the year.
FOREST RIDGE DEI ACTION PLAN GOALS
- Understand and enhance the student experience (all other goals are designed to support this goal).
- Dedicate FTE (instructor hours) to a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lead with connection to the academic administrative team.
- Commit to ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion education and training for faculty and staff and parents around the themes of: cultural competency, supporting racial and economic inclusion, gender and identity, and neurodiversity.
- Ensure curriculum is inclusive and represents diverse perspectives.
- Develop a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Framework to guide and inform the community’s work.
- Work to recruit and hire a more diverse faculty and staff.
As the 2018 DEI Action Plan enters the end of its initial three-year cycle, we reﬂect on priorities, opportunities and innovative measures related to our DEI work. The DEI Committee will work closely with Head of School Mary Rose Guerin, other administrators and the Board of Trustees to ensure that the DEI strategy and goals are deeply integrated into every aspect of Forest Ridge’s long-term strategic plan, in both the academic program and administrative and operational matters. We want DEI at Forest Ridge to not just be the responsibility of a handful of committee members, but rather to become everyone’s work, at every level. Cultivating a community that celebrates diversity by being inclusive and equitable should be seen as a worthwhile and noble investment by every single member of Forest Ridge. It is our investment in a future where our students can successfully and compassionately engage—and thrive—in a multicultural and interconnected world. It is only when every member of this Sacred Heart community commits to respecting and empowering all people that our relationships become more meaningful and our community, much stronger. For questions, concerns or ways to get involved, please contact Dr. Maritza Tavarez-Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Dr. Erika Del Villar at email@example.com.