Studies show members of diverse populations are smarter and more creative than their counterparts from more homogenous groups.
Providence Day School is the independent school leader in diversity and inclusion (which are different yet both so important — we’ll get to that in a moment), so we sat down with Executive Director of Diversity & Multicultural Education Dr. Nadia Johnson to talk about diversity in the classroom. Here’s what we learned:

‘Diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are often interchanged, but they’re different. Diversity refers to the respect for and appreciation of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion. Inclusion refers to the state of being/feeling valued, respected, and supported.
Nadia said it’s obviously important for a school to be diverse, but inclusion is a crucial element as well. If a school is diverse but not inclusive, students might feel uncomfortable being themselves in the classroom, and may even create alternate identities they use at school.

“In an inclusive community, people can feel comfortable bringing their identities with them. Students can be themselves and not fear social ostracization,” Nadia said. This will make them feel more valued and respected.”

Curriculums can and should support diversity as well. It’s about more than just seeing a variety of genders, races and religions on campus. Nadia said students should themselves reflected in the curriculum, no matter what their backgrounds are. PDS achieves this by teaching histories of a broad set of ethnic and religious communities, and making sure their English classes include literature with characters who have a variety of backgrounds. Some schools expose students to other cultures by bringing in artists or dancers to showcase their work, but Nadia said that’s not enough.

“If you have a diverse multicultural curriculum, it will attract a diverse community,” Nadia said. “Research shows that to cultivate inclusive community, work needs to start in the classroom. It’s a part of our everyday life at Providence Day.”

 Students’ identities aren’t limited to their race, gender or religion. Their interests should be cultivated as well.
Nadia stressed the importance of creating a learning community where students can bring their full identities to the classroom, including their interests. For example, PDS teaches “The Great Gatsby” in 10th grade literature, which creates the opportunity for students who are car enthusiasts to do research projects on the book’s many vehicles.
Bringing their interests into class makes students want to learn more, and it helps build relationships with their teachers outside of the subject they’re teaching, Nadia said.
Keeping the classroom a safe space will encourage open dialog. Nadia said students feel comfortable asking questions about other cultures, religions, etc. in the classroom because it’s clearly a safe place. It helps that even though PDS has evolved to be a larger school, it still has a smaller community feel.
“We talk about the importance of respect, speaking from the ‘I’ perspective and not generalizing any group of people,” Nadia said.
Teaching students about diversity, inclusion and social responsibility helps prepare them for the real world. Once students graduate PDS, they’re heading out into a diverse world, and Nadia wants to make sure they’re prepared for it. Nadia also said social responsibility is a part of PDS’s mission, and it’s complemented by having students go out into diverse communities to do service. While they’re serving other communities, PDS students are challenged to think critically — ‘are we culturally aware of how people are different based on their backgrounds? Do we display cultural sensitivity and respect?’ Thanks to this exposure and critical thought, they’ll know how to interact with people from different backgrounds, religions, cultures, etc. once they’re in the real world.
Learn more about diversity and cultural responsiveness in Nadia’s piece titled “The Culturally Responsive Classroom Without Borders,” which was published in the summer 2015 edition of Independent School Magazine.

Providence Day School Open Houses

October 25
6:30 p.m.
Transitional Kindergarten – Grade 5

November 6
2 p.m.
Transitional Kindergarten – Grade 12

For more info, email: [email protected]


Providence Day School
5800 Sardis Road, Charlotte NC 28270
Phone: 704-887-6000
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.providenceday.org/
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