Building an Inclusive School Community

by Inclusion Director Rachel Shankman
"The best examples of inclusion take place in the classrooms as girls are learning how to become critical and independent thinkers equipped to engage in civil discourse."
The word inclusion elicits many meanings from our Hutchison community. I suspect we all can reach back into our school memories and recall a time when we didn’t feel included and the impact that had on us. For me it was an awareness that I was different from my classmates - my parents were Holocaust survivors who had an accent; I had no grandparents and socioeconomically, finances were a struggle. I was, also, so fortunate that my parents encouraged me to strive, not to be defined or limited by circumstances. I had teachers, like Mrs. Vernon, who said I talked too much but would go far in this world.  As with everyone reading these words, we have all been shaped by how we see ourselves and how the larger society sees us.
 
My passion for inclusion has brought me to my current role as the Hutchison Inclusion Director. I want to share an understanding of that word that undergirds our collective efforts.  We want every member of our community - girls, families, faculty/staff to feel a sense of belonging; we want everyone to feel that their diversity is valued, respected and seen, and we want to continue to create an environment that is supportive and enables everyone to do their best work.
 
Hutchison has been committed to these goals for many years, and the Board of Trustees adopted a Diversity and Inclusion statement in 2000. How to move from aspirational goals to concrete action is very much on my mind, and here are a few of the highlights of where we are and where we are going.  We have an outstanding board-appointed inclusion committee comprised of parents and community representatives who meet monthly to consider ways to build a more inclusive parent community that values differences and honors commonalities thereby enhancing an environment that is supportive of each girl and family. Members of our committee have hosted small gatherings so that parents can engage with one another across racial, religious and socioeconomic lines. Erica Coopwood, a member of the Board of Trustees and a Hutchison parent, chairs this committee. The other members are Reggie Davis and Kimberly Perry – Co-chairs, Emily Bowie, Leslie Daniel, Keith Dodge, Elizabeth Eggleston, Tonya Faulkner, Barry Gilmore, Melissa Grimes, Cindy Grissinger, Lori Guy, Shun Houston, Humi Kazmi, Anne Keeney, Melanie Koo, Sara Kris, Andy McCarroll, Merry Moore, Robyn Raby, Kristen Ring, Ghazal Saeed, Rachel Shankman, Laura Shy, Larry Skolnick, Ross Spain, Laurie Stanton, Muffy Turley, Lisa Usdan, and Paul Young.
 
The faculty and staff are engaging in ongoing professional development that enhances their cultural competency and brings new strategies into their classrooms. You literally see their efforts on the walls of the school with beautiful identity charts of the girls, with library books in classrooms that bring different cultures into the world of our girls, with plays that address some of society’s most salient themes and so much more.
 
The best examples of inclusion take place in the classrooms as girls are learning how to become critical and independent thinkers equipped to engage in civil discourse. Those lessons about how to think critically extend beyond the classroom as the girls grow and develop, most specifically with their work in the community through Hutchison Leads, Hutchison Serves, and Hutchison Invests. Through these real-world experiences, girls are developing an awareness of complex issues that impact community and discovering what it means to be a responsible global citizen.
 
True inclusion isn’t just a word or a brand; it is a way of being. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions as we build a more inclusive school community.  You can find me online at rshankman@hutchisonschool.org, by phone, (901) 830-4879, and in my office at Hutchison, Robinson building, every Thursday.

ABOUT RACHEL SHANKMAN

Rachel Shankman is the Inclusion Director at Hutchison School. Previous to her work here, she was the founding Director of the Memphis office of Facing History and Ourselves. She retired from that position in 2014 after 22 years. Prior to her work at Facing History, she was director of the Jewish Student Union at Memphis State University, educational director of Beth Sholom Synagogue, regional director of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, and a casework associate with Family Service of Memphis. She received a B.S. in sociology and social work from Memphis State University and has studied at the University of Tennessee School of Social Work and Memphis State University’s Foundations of Education program.
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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.