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O’Dowd Faculty and Staff Participate in People of Color Conference

Faculty and staff attending the People of Color Conference (PoCC) are already putting practices into place that bring equity, inclusion and genuine support to O’Dowd students.

<img class="size-full wp-image-26580 alignright lazyload" src="" alt="" width="200" height="250" />Take the newly implemented “Snacks and Packs” program introduced by Director of Academic Support Catherine Harris as a result of her participation in one of the conference workshops “Inclusive and Equitable Support: Creating Effective Learning Resources Programs.”

“We offered students the opportunity to connect with Academic Support around organization for the new semester, providing snacks and school supplies to organize student backpacks and schoolwork,” Harris said. “Our goal was to reach a wider group of students, meet new faces, and help students in a way that might not be the traditional view of ‘Academic Support.’ It was a success and hopefully the new connections we have made will remind students of the various ways we can assist them and open the doors for continued relationships throughout their time at O’Dowd.”

Held in Nashville, Tennessee, November 28-December 1, the PoCC conference, titled “Equitable Schools and Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord and the Notes in Between,” was sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). O’Dowd is a member school of this non-profit association that provides services to more than 1,500 independent private K-12 schools in the United States.

<img class="size-full wp-image-26455 alignleft lazyload" src="" alt="" width="200" height="250" />“At O’Dowd, we believe that our culture of care begins with our educators and their ability to ‘see’ every student. ‘Seeing’ our students has to do with how our learning environments support all students so that they are set up to succeed. As part of O’Dowd’s continued work and commitment around diversity, equity and inclusion we sent a cohort of seven adults to PoCC to gain insights into building a learning community that is just and sustainable,” Associate Principal Jase Turner said.

This was Harris’ second year attending and she found the experience energizing and emotional. “My favorite part has been connecting with others in the affinity groups. I attend the mixed race affinity group (her mother is from the Dominican Republic and her father is white American) and really enjoy the conversations with others about being ‘half and half’ and themes surrounding personal identity. It’s amazing to me how many similarities we have, even though we may look completely different and come from different cultures. Discussions like these help foster connections with people I may not have known I was similar to, and that is something I can bring back to the O’Dowd community,” she said.

Turner firmly believes that professional development opportunities are essential for adult learning and growth. “Taking time away from our day-to-day agenda to focus on ways in which we as adult educators can stimulate change, as well as connect with other educators to discuss best practices, is a critical step in our ability to progress. O’Dowd’s emphasis on a culture of care connects directly with our intention of creating spaces and curriculum where students feel connected, valued and challenged. PoCC is a great place for that type of adult learning, collaboration and inspiration to happen,” he said.

<img class="size-full wp-image-26456 alignright lazyload" src="" alt="" width="200" height="250" />A third-year participant in the conference, CORE Program Coordinator and counselor Patrice Wakeley said she returned to campus revitalized and inspired to continue her work. “To be surrounded by people of color and white allies all focused on creating change in the educational system so that students from all backgrounds and identities feel heard and supported is invaluable to me,” she said.

“One of the best takeaways from the conference for me was that although we are doing some good work here, there is still a lot of work to be done at O’Dowd around equity and inclusion. The more we have these conversations as a community and talk about ways we can better serve and represent our diverse student body in all areas from the classroom to counseling, academic support and beyond is imperative,” Wakeley added.

<img class="size-full wp-image-26457 alignleft lazyload" src="" alt="" width="200" height="250" />International Program Coordinator and Counselor Robin Lau found the conference professionally and personally rewarding. “PoCC acknowledged the systemic isolation that educators of color feel in so many arenas including the professional. The conference created spaces that made me feel affirmed in my experiences and connected, whether it came via thought-provoking questions or conversations in affinity groups. It underscored, in a very personal way, the importance of supporting such spaces for students of color, one step towards a more inclusive and supportive atmosphere in any community. I’m grateful to O’Dowd for honoring my needs and encouraging my participation in this conference,” she said.

<img class="size-full wp-image-26525 alignright lazyload" src="" alt="" width="200" height="250" />English teacher Ricca Sarmiento said that being at PoCC reminded her of the importance of her role as a female educator of color, especially at such a diverse school like O’Dowd. “One of my favorite workshops discussed how the literary canon can be traumatic for some students, and emphasized the need to diversify the voices we present to our students,” she said. “This is something that the English department has been working on and this workshop reminded me of the impact that our curriculum has on our students, whether we realize it or not.”

Others attending the conference included English teacher and Academic Support Department Liaison Damian Barnes  and Counselor Juliet Arechiga ’93.


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