Diving In to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Imagine standing at the edge of the water and staring at its beautiful swirling movement. You can see your reflection gazing back at you, and you see your expression has its own mix of emotions—enthusiasm, curiosity, earnestness, and even a bit of trepidation. You take a deep breath, and you dive in.  

Diving in to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work is what The Windward School is committing to fully, and it is doing so with intentionality, thoughtfulness, and heart. Windward celebrates the neurodiversity of its students, and the School not only teaches them to embrace their learning disabilities, but also prepares students to be proud advocates for themselves. The Windward School truly believes that Difference Is Power

Windward is expanding that same passionate drive to ensure its community is one that welcomes all identities—ability, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and more—so that every member feels safe and valued as well as a powerful sense of belonging. 

“Together, with a shared set of values, our entire community, including leadership, faculty, staff, the Board of Trustees, and our families can make things better for The Windward School today and for generations to come,” said Head of School Jamie Williamson. “When we say we envision a world where every child with a language-based learning disability can achieve unlimited success, we do mean every child. Every single one of us plays an important role in ensuring all individuals at Windward feel respected, appreciated, and safe to be themselves. The meaningful DEIB work that we are doing has never been more important than it is today.” 

“When we say we envision a world where every child with a language-based learning disability can achieve unlimited success, we do mean every child.” 

Although significant steps have been undertaken this year, Windward is still at the beginning of its DEIB journey. There remains much work to be done. As the School’s leadership continues to reflect on the past to strategically plan for the future, Mr. Williamson recognizes the time it has taken as an institution to arrive at this moment and the impact that has had on community members.  

“Windward has had a stellar record of achieving its mission to remediate students with language-based learning disabilities. Our proven instructional program will never change, but we know we can do more,” said Mr. Williamson. “We can improve our students’ skills while also offering a wider breadth of stories in our language arts books. We can train our teachers how to lead critical conversations about race and identity that organically occur in the classroom. We can provide resources to our families so they have the tools they need to support their child at home. Windward can deliver on our program goals while simultaneously cultivating an environment of belonging for everyone, and it is time for us to take those steps to enact positive change.” 

“Windward can deliver on our program goals while simultaneously cultivating an environment of belonging for everyone.” 

This school year marked Year 1 of The Windward School’s continually-evolving three-year diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging plan. Annually, the stewards of the three-year plan, the DivE In Committee, will look ahead and outline new benchmarks to be achieved in three years. Thus, Windward will have an ongoing three-year DEIB plan, a timeline of goals that will be finetuned carefully, looking ever forward to the betterment of the School.  

What does a Windward lesson about a DEIB-related topic like race look like in practice? As with all classes at Windward, the trained teachers follow a research-based, multisensory, direct instruction model. This methodology is critical for students with language-based learning disabilities, but even more so when a class is engaging in discussions about topics such as differing identities.  

As explained by Nicole Berkowitz, speech-language pathologist and Coordinator of Language at Manhattan Middle School, “Students with language-based learning disabilities struggle with perspective taking as well as vague, non-specific, and nuanced language. These students benefit from explicit and structured language.” 

Third-grade students at Windward were taught a three-day unit on identity, skin color, and race for the first time this fall. The introductory presentation began with a specific definition of skin color as the amount of melanin in someone’s skin cells: the more melanin in skin cells, the darker the pigmentation; the less melanin in skin cells, the lighter the pigmentation. In humans, skin colors can range from beige to taupe to mahogany to many other shades. This biological explanation of skin color was one example of how language surrounding race could be described in a direct and factual way to students with language-based learning disabilities.  

Examples of additional units of study in the lower schools included the Civil Rights movement in the United States, Lunar New Year, and Indigenous Communities of Canda. Teachers incorporated historical presentations, read alouds, and engaging activities to reinforce understanding. In an academic setting, students were introduced to a broad array of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives that may be different from their own lived experiences. 

In the middle schools, Windward students were able to engage in DEIB conversations, such as race, at a deeper, age-appropriate level. A new text, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, was introduced to eighth-grade students this school year. The memoir tackles complex issues surrounding racism, prejudice, and power. The author describes growing up during Apartheid in South Africa, where it was illegal for people of different races to have children together, making Trevor’s existence as a biracial individual a “crime.”   

The eighth graders’ culminating essay was about the impact of institutionalized racism on Trevor Noah’s relationship with his mother. They examined, for example, how Trevor’s mother, a Black woman, would bring along a friend with light skin to pretend to be Trevor’s mother in public to avoid suspicion. The students’ final works offered well-constructed critical analyses of the inequities of Apartheid and demonstrated an appreciation of the nuance of systemic racism. 

In music appreciation class, seventh graders learned about the impact of legendary Blues icon Muddy Waters. Sixth graders enjoyed a read aloud of A Ride to Remember, which told the true story of the first African-American child who rode a carousel in a desegregated amusement park in 1963. Eighth graders heard from Manhattan Lower & Middle Schools Division Head Leslie Zuckerwise about the “6 Million Paperclips” project that honored the Jewish lives lost during the Holocaust. Middle schoolers across campuses also had the opportunity to join the after-school program called Rainbow Club, which debuted this winter. Rainbow Club offers a non-judgmental space for students of all identities where members could learn about gender and sexuality.

As stated in the DEIB Office’s objectives, classroom lessons and extracurricular activities that highlight various societal topics, like race or sexual orientation, supports one of its aims to “expand a student’s ability to function in a pluralistic society by teaching self-awareness while encouraging genuine respect and appreciation for people.” In the years ahead, Windward plans to provide faculty with more training to teach effectively about subjects surrounding identity, so not only students but also teachers can build proficiency and comfort when talking about DEIB-related subjects. 

Three major milestones in Windward’s DEIB journey are on the horizon. The DivE In Committee will soon announce Windward’s formalized three-year plan and first-ever DEIB mission statement. This statement will be essential in communicating to our community the School's purpose in committing to this work, and it will provide Windward with a focus and a set of values moving forward. A search is also underway for the School’s newly created position of Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging. This senior-level administrator will be responsible for building the framework of implementation for Windward's DEIB initiatives and function as the leading resource for all departments on procedures and practices through an equity lens.  

With a director, a three-year plan, a mission statement, and the DivE In Committee, The Windward School is being deliberate in establishing the necessary components for future success. But how will we know if Windward is achieving what it has set out to do? How do you tangibly measure something as abstract as a sense of belonging in a community?  

“Our DEIB work will never be done; it will always be ongoing,” noted Mr. Williamson. “But what we are all striving to do is build a diverse world, an equitable world, and an inclusive world. As a school, our greatest hope is to provide the best education we can for our students, and that means preparing them to become respectful global citizens. Each day, each month, each year, we will continue to refer back to The Windward’s School vision, core values, and three-year DEIB plan to keep ourselves accountable in building a stronger community.” 

By fostering a climate of respect and appreciation for the many facets of diversity within and beyond the community, The Windward School is expanding the inclusiveness of its culture and committing to being an institution in which every individual feels a powerful sense of belonging.

DEIB Journey Framed by Core Values 

The Windward School’s four core values—commitment, community, growth, and impact—were identified by the faculty and staff across all four campuses last year, and the School shapes its work every day in reflection of these values. In Windward’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practice, the belief in these four core values provide a clear framework for how the School is approaching its journey.  

  1. Commitment - Windward is maintaining a disciplined and rigorous approach in all that we do. 

  1. Community - The School fosters a strong cohesive and collaborative culture. 

  1. Growth – Everyone is capable of growing and learning. 

  1. Impact - Through this work, Windward is fulfilling its vision of a world where every child with a language-based learning disability is empowered to achieve unlimited success.