A coeducational day school serving students JK-12

Eleannor Maajid’s office is never empty. As Latin’s Advocate for Students of Color for the last five years, she created a welcoming space for teachers, staff and students to come for support and counsel. In her new role as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), her office remains as busy as ever, but the impact of her work is felt far beyond those four walls.

When asked about the path Latin has taken over the years, Maajid is proud of the progress made in regards to the width and breadth of DEI work. “When I think of DEI, it is truly becoming a part of everything we do,” she said. While still keeping student support at the heart of her day-to-day reality, Maajid now also oversees all DEI initiatives at Latin and her school-wide scope and strategic lens can require her to be involved in everything from human resources to enrollment management to athletics to communications—sometimes all in one day. As the chair of Latin’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she is additionally responsible for articulating goals, brainstorming implementation and providing accountability.

“Latin’s new vision statement directs us to make learning inquiry-based, personal and inclusive,” Maajid shared. “All of these things align with our DEI goals: to help students know and understand themselves, to create a learning environment that supports each student as needed, and to continually grow our ability to understand and empathize with each other.” For Maajid, this commitment on a strategic level is critical. “It shows that DEI work is really who we are and the fabric of our being. It has become part of Latin’s identity.”

To develop a structure for the work ahead, Maajid has partnered with Dr. Derrick Gay, a thought leader and educational consultant who has worked in independent schools, businesses and universities in 17 countries across six continents for more than 20 years. In every country, schools are asking a similar question … what are their responsibilities for educating students so that they can be critical thinkers and develop an open mindset for navigating an increasingly complex world comprised of people from various backgrounds?

Before diving into the complexities, Gay likes to begin with language. As it turns out, definitions are important. Take the term “diversity” which Gay notes is often misunderstood. “Most people understand it as an identity; for example, a historically marginalized group, like women, people of color, LGBTQ+ or non-Christians.” But according to Gay, “diversity” is really a neutral term that means differences, not different. “We need to reframe ‘diversity’ from referring to a particular person to meaning differences. We are all different to other people. It is both an ideological and semantic shift,” he said. “When you redefine it this way, everyone feels included and can contribute to and benefit from diversity efforts.”

We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world.
Dr. Derrick Gay, Educational Consultant
In addition to hosting dialogues and workshops with faculty, staff, parents and trustees, much of Gay’s work at Latin has been focused on coaching faculty and staff on framing diversity in alignment with the mission of the school. “We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world,” said Gay. He believes that everything in schools—from literature to curriculum—needs to be a mirror or a window, a metaphor coined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor and researcher at The Ohio State University. “Children need to be able to see themselves—the mirror. But we also need to create spaces where children feel included and can learn about others in meaningful ways—the window. In this way, we can cultivate empathy, which is simply understanding and caring about the feelings of others.”

Lower school teacher-librarians Sheri Snopek and Luke Sutton are heartened by the publishing industry’s push in the last five or six years to showcase books with different characters and perspectives. However, there is still a long way to go for equitable representation. Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin for 2018 indicate that only 23 percent of books published for children feature content by and about people of color. That’s up from 14.2 percent in 2015, yet still does not come close to reflecting youth population percentages. “It’s definitely getting better,” said Sutton, “but we could always use more books with different characters.”

Sutton and Snopek gather titles through suggestions from students, teachers and parents, as well as professional book reviews, online resources, and various library lists and publishers. “We have age-appropriate books on any topic you can think of,” said Snopek. “We try to have something for everyone.”

The learning around identity at every grade level in the lower school includes books that provide engaging windows and mirrors for students to learn about themselves and others. Every year begins with an all-school read that encourages students to broaden their idea of community. This fall, every lower school class read the book All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. The book’s illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman are wonderfully inclusive. Author visits also give students a chance to learn about how writers create these stories. Last semester alone, four visits were arranged by the librarians. Children learned about the Indian holiday of Diwali with author Ajanta Chakraborty, were introduced to the important contributions of a diversity of activists throughout history with author Robin Stevenson, enjoyed Kyle Lukoff’s When Aidan Became a Brother featuring a family’s embrace of a transgender child and followed the writing process of award-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. A family presentation about the importance of diversifying children’s bookshelves was included as part of Grace Lin’s visit, giving adults the opportunity to learn as well.

Sutton and Snopek are mindful of the books they put on display and try to pick titles that reflect the diverse world around the students. “It is really awesome when you see a student who is excited to read something because the person depicted looks like them,” said Snopek.

Middle school affective education focuses on social and emotional learning, and includes character building. Fifth through eighth graders all study identity with middle school wellness teacher Dr. Richard Dickinson. Each grade examines what identity is, how it is developed and how it affects relationships, albeit in age-appropriate ways.

For example, Dickinson does an activity called The Apprentice with each grade level. Students are given eight candidates for an engineer who can support life on Mars. However, they are given very little information other than the names of the candidates. Some names are ambiguous by gender or ethnicity. Students have to fire a candidate each round. “The purpose is to uncover unconscious bias,” said Dickinson. “The point of the exercise is that we all carry these, so we need to be aware so we can make more conscious decisions.” Interestingly, the fifth graders, who are more eager to fire the candidates, are less aware of their biases and prejudices. “It was very eye-opening for many of them,” said Dickinson. “The eighth graders are much more reticent. They have a greater level of discomfort about firing candidates, given the little information they have. They also exhibited a greater level of shame in their awareness of their biases.”

While Dickinson acknowledges that middle schoolers are sometimes challenging to teach, he loves that he is able to start students thinking about positive personal identity. “The more students can accept and appreciative differences, the more empathy and understanding they will have. We want students to feel free, open, safe and not marginalized because of any component in their identity.”

Upper school Global Studies Visual Arts (GSVA) class is an opportunity for ninth grade to focus on connecting artwork to their identity. Betty Lark Ross, chair of the visual arts department and GSVA teacher, explained the My Visual Culture project, where students take photos of five small meaningful artifacts that will fit on a neutral background. Students then set to work, using one of 150 contemporary master images, giving students a guide for composition or color. “Students can incorporate the items into their work in any way they want, using any medium. The challenge is to make their work very personalized,” said Ross.

Ross insists that students must learn that they are unique and have creative ideas. “Many people think they are not artistic. We want to empower students to know they can express themselves visually.”

English class is another opportunity for ninth graders to explore identity. All freshmen students read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The novel tells the story of Starr, an African-American girl who lives in a black neighborhood but attends a predominantly white school. “Starr attends a school that is a lot like Latin, so Williamson Prep serves as a mirror,” said Kate Lorber-Crittenden who is the upper school diversity coordinator and also an upper school English teacher who has taught the text for two years. Starr witnesses a white police officer kill her childhood friend, and the news story becomes national. When the grand jury does not indict the officer, Starr becomes increasingly vocal about the situation, which causes tensions with her friends at school.

“The novel asks students to think about biases,” Lorber-Crittenden said. “Where we grow up and our values affect our understanding of people who might be different.”

“Students love this text. The protagonist is around their age, and it deals with real-life experiences,” said Lorber-Crittenden. “It has a lot of relevance.”

“The goal is to create a learning environment so that we can support everyone,” said Gay. Helping students understand their identities and the identities of others is critical to all members of the community feeling valued and engaged, which are the best conditions for learning.

DEI

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Latin Frames Diversity for the Twenty-First Century

Eleannor Maajid’s office is never empty. As Latin’s Advocate for Students of Color for the last five years, she created a welcoming space for teachers, staff and students to come for support and counsel. In her new role as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), her office remains as busy as ever, but the impact of her work is felt far beyond those four walls.

When asked about the path Latin has taken over the years, Maajid is proud of the progress made in regards to the width and breadth of DEI work. “When I think of DEI, it is truly becoming a part of everything we do,” she said. While still keeping student support at the heart of her day-to-day reality, Maajid now also oversees all DEI initiatives at Latin and her school-wide scope and strategic lens can require her to be involved in everything from human resources to enrollment management to athletics to communications—sometimes all in one day. As the chair of Latin’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she is additionally responsible for articulating goals, brainstorming implementation and providing accountability.

“Latin’s new vision statement directs us to make learning inquiry-based, personal and inclusive,” Maajid shared. “All of these things align with our DEI goals: to help students know and understand themselves, to create a learning environment that supports each student as needed, and to continually grow our ability to understand and empathize with each other.” For Maajid, this commitment on a strategic level is critical. “It shows that DEI work is really who we are and the fabric of our being. It has become part of Latin’s identity.”

To develop a structure for the work ahead, Maajid has partnered with Dr. Derrick Gay, a thought leader and educational consultant who has worked in independent schools, businesses and universities in 17 countries across six continents for more than 20 years. In every country, schools are asking a similar question … what are their responsibilities for educating students so that they can be critical thinkers and develop an open mindset for navigating an increasingly complex world comprised of people from various backgrounds?

Before diving into the complexities, Gay likes to begin with language. As it turns out, definitions are important. Take the term “diversity” which Gay notes is often misunderstood. “Most people understand it as an identity; for example, a historically marginalized group, like women, people of color, LGBTQ+ or non-Christians.” But according to Gay, “diversity” is really a neutral term that means differences, not different. “We need to reframe ‘diversity’ from referring to a particular person to meaning differences. We are all different to other people. It is both an ideological and semantic shift,” he said. “When you redefine it this way, everyone feels included and can contribute to and benefit from diversity efforts.”

We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world.
Dr. Derrick Gay, Educational Consultant
In addition to hosting dialogues and workshops with faculty, staff, parents and trustees, much of Gay’s work at Latin has been focused on coaching faculty and staff on framing diversity in alignment with the mission of the school. “We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world,” said Gay. He believes that everything in schools—from literature to curriculum—needs to be a mirror or a window, a metaphor coined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor and researcher at The Ohio State University. “Children need to be able to see themselves—the mirror. But we also need to create spaces where children feel included and can learn about others in meaningful ways—the window. In this way, we can cultivate empathy, which is simply understanding and caring about the feelings of others.”

Lower school teacher-librarians Sheri Snopek and Luke Sutton are heartened by the publishing industry’s push in the last five or six years to showcase books with different characters and perspectives. However, there is still a long way to go for equitable representation. Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin for 2018 indicate that only 23 percent of books published for children feature content by and about people of color. That’s up from 14.2 percent in 2015, yet still does not come close to reflecting youth population percentages. “It’s definitely getting better,” said Sutton, “but we could always use more books with different characters.”

Sutton and Snopek gather titles through suggestions from students, teachers and parents, as well as professional book reviews, online resources, and various library lists and publishers. “We have age-appropriate books on any topic you can think of,” said Snopek. “We try to have something for everyone.”

The learning around identity at every grade level in the lower school includes books that provide engaging windows and mirrors for students to learn about themselves and others. Every year begins with an all-school read that encourages students to broaden their idea of community. This fall, every lower school class read the book All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. The book’s illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman are wonderfully inclusive. Author visits also give students a chance to learn about how writers create these stories. Last semester alone, four visits were arranged by the librarians. Children learned about the Indian holiday of Diwali with author Ajanta Chakraborty, were introduced to the important contributions of a diversity of activists throughout history with author Robin Stevenson, enjoyed Kyle Lukoff’s When Aidan Became a Brother featuring a family’s embrace of a transgender child and followed the writing process of award-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. A family presentation about the importance of diversifying children’s bookshelves was included as part of Grace Lin’s visit, giving adults the opportunity to learn as well.

Sutton and Snopek are mindful of the books they put on display and try to pick titles that reflect the diverse world around the students. “It is really awesome when you see a student who is excited to read something because the person depicted looks like them,” said Snopek.

Middle school affective education focuses on social and emotional learning, and includes character building. Fifth through eighth graders all study identity with middle school wellness teacher Dr. Richard Dickinson. Each grade examines what identity is, how it is developed and how it affects relationships, albeit in age-appropriate ways.

For example, Dickinson does an activity called The Apprentice with each grade level. Students are given eight candidates for an engineer who can support life on Mars. However, they are given very little information other than the names of the candidates. Some names are ambiguous by gender or ethnicity. Students have to fire a candidate each round. “The purpose is to uncover unconscious bias,” said Dickinson. “The point of the exercise is that we all carry these, so we need to be aware so we can make more conscious decisions.” Interestingly, the fifth graders, who are more eager to fire the candidates, are less aware of their biases and prejudices. “It was very eye-opening for many of them,” said Dickinson. “The eighth graders are much more reticent. They have a greater level of discomfort about firing candidates, given the little information they have. They also exhibited a greater level of shame in their awareness of their biases.”

While Dickinson acknowledges that middle schoolers are sometimes challenging to teach, he loves that he is able to start students thinking about positive personal identity. “The more students can accept and appreciative differences, the more empathy and understanding they will have. We want students to feel free, open, safe and not marginalized because of any component in their identity.”

Upper school Global Studies Visual Arts (GSVA) class is an opportunity for ninth grade to focus on connecting artwork to their identity. Betty Lark Ross, chair of the visual arts department and GSVA teacher, explained the My Visual Culture project, where students take photos of five small meaningful artifacts that will fit on a neutral background. Students then set to work, using one of 150 contemporary master images, giving students a guide for composition or color. “Students can incorporate the items into their work in any way they want, using any medium. The challenge is to make their work very personalized,” said Ross.

Ross insists that students must learn that they are unique and have creative ideas. “Many people think they are not artistic. We want to empower students to know they can express themselves visually.”

English class is another opportunity for ninth graders to explore identity. All freshmen students read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The novel tells the story of Starr, an African-American girl who lives in a black neighborhood but attends a predominantly white school. “Starr attends a school that is a lot like Latin, so Williamson Prep serves as a mirror,” said Kate Lorber-Crittenden who is the upper school diversity coordinator and also an upper school English teacher who has taught the text for two years. Starr witnesses a white police officer kill her childhood friend, and the news story becomes national. When the grand jury does not indict the officer, Starr becomes increasingly vocal about the situation, which causes tensions with her friends at school.

“The novel asks students to think about biases,” Lorber-Crittenden said. “Where we grow up and our values affect our understanding of people who might be different.”

“Students love this text. The protagonist is around their age, and it deals with real-life experiences,” said Lorber-Crittenden. “It has a lot of relevance.”

“The goal is to create a learning environment so that we can support everyone,” said Gay. Helping students understand their identities and the identities of others is critical to all members of the community feeling valued and engaged, which are the best conditions for learning.

DEI

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Books collected for book drive

Donations to the "Upside Down Book Fair" were near an all-time high, with over 1,500 books collected. These books are being given to students through Latin's partnerships with Asian Youth Services, McCutcheon School, Cradles to Crayons and Open Books. This was an amazing outpouring from the Latin community to help get books to those who might not receive them otherwise.

Check out the photos!

 
Student Life

 

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scrabble pieces spelling anxiety | Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels


Dr. Gabrielle Roberts is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children, adolescents and young adults at Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn. Previously, she worked in residential treatment and in the child welfare system with youth who had experienced extreme trauma. She is also the parent of a lower school student at Latin. 

TRANSCRIPT

How can parents encourage children to talk to them about their emotions surrounding school and COVID-19?

First and foremost, check in with your children. If you know your child is already anxious, then I would say check in more frequently. If not, I would say check in from time to time. Ask open ended questions. How are you feeling about the coronavirus? How are you feeling about going to back to school? Listen. That’s most important. Validate their emotions. Let them know that you hear what they’re saying and that you understand it’s important to them. Be careful not to minimize their feelings. As adults, we have the beautiful wisdom of knowing that something your child feels is the end of the world or will forever alter their life is not really the case, but you can honor and validate that’s how they feel right now. Remind them that they can talk to you anytime about anything and that you’re here for them.

How important is it for parents to model the calm behavior asked of their students?

Very… as we're all going through this together. If you want a silver lining for this situation, which you may not, the situation is actually an excellent opportunity to teach your child coping skills. And these are skills that they're going to need for life beyond coronavirus. You can talk to your children about how you cope with stress and model that behavior, but we aren't perfect. We will make mistakes and modeling how we recover when we've failed to cope. How we problem solve when we're visibly anxious and not managing it well is really also an excellent modeling opportunity. So it's a win-win here.

Some students might experience separation anxiety from friends since they might be placed in different cohorts. How can a parent help with that change?

Again, start by listening, validating those feelings. Don't minimize those feelings. It is a big deal, even if, down the line, you know they'll be okay. It feels like a really big deal, especially when it comes to older children and teens, it's a big deal. The same goes for children who are maybe going to be remote and their peers are going to be in school, so help your child problem solve this. I know our children spend a lot of time on screens these days, but that social media connection, especially those apps that enable our children and teens to connect in real time, face-to-face has been really valuable right now for socialization and connection.

Every time I say this, I stutter because I'm usually so anti screen, but I've been promoting this because I think it's really helpful right now when it comes to that face-to-face connection. Also, remind your children and this isn't forever. That's something I find myself saying to myself and also to my daughter a lot. I tell her, “I cannot tell you when this is going to end, but I can promise you it will end.” And that's an important bottom line.

If a classmate contracts COVID-19, how should a parent explain it to their child? 

There's not one right answer. But as a general rule, I would start with a less is more approach. So in general, as adults, we tend to give more information than children are usually asking for. And so I would start by keeping it short and simple. Explain what happened and focus on the positive of the situation if you can.

“...David has COVID and is at home where his mom and dad are taking good care of him.” Depending upon the situation, how worried your child is, and is the child at home really sick, or are they hopefully at home and asymptomatic and just hanging out...? If it's the latter case, maybe arranging an opportunity for your child to virtually connect with that child would be a way to help reduce your child's worry. It also might be nice for the child who's stuck at home and disconnected from people too and maybe scared as well. 

How do you know when your child should talk to a professional about their anxiety? 

First of all, when in doubt, please consult a professional. I, as a professional, tell parents all the time to bring their child for a checkup. We get physical checkups every year, but we don't get mental health checkups every year. And obviously, I'm biased, but I think that's really important. And so I never mind when a parent schedules an appointment just to make sure their child is okay. That's wonderful. And I love telling parents, “Your child is doing great. Call me if you need something.” When your child's anxiety is persistent, they're having a lot of difficulties coping and that anxiety is interfering with their life, their school, home happiness, it's a good time to call a professional.

If a student is experiencing anxiety in the classroom or hallway, what coping skills could they try?

It's good for all children to have some coping skills that they already know and can use if needed. So I would say, first and foremost, these are things to practice beforehand. It's really hard to learn a new skill in the moment when we're really anxious. It's most helpful if children have a toolbox of different skills they can use because what works for me may not work for you. And what works for me on Tuesday might not work for me on Wednesday. So it's good to have a lot of options. Different children will do better with different skills. Some that might be helpful in the classroom or hallway includes knowing that they can go and talk to a teacher and ask for what they need. Do they need space? Do they need support? Knowing who else they can go talk to or ask for–who are the identified people, a counselor, a nurse, maybe there's a certain person in the school who they feel particularly comfortable with.

Deep breathing or belly breathing, it's really easy to learn. It's a really simple distraction. 

They can acknowledge that they're having this thought, but pull that thought away and focus on what’s safe around them and what they can do to be safe. So using self-talk to say, “Okay, I'm feeling worried, but let me go through my mental checklist. I'm wearing my mask. I just washed my hands. We're keeping our space. So I think I'm safe.” It's helpful to have a worry plan in advance. 

Parents are wearing so many different hats, parent/teacher, employee, child therapist, how can a guardian manage their own wellbeing while helping make sure their child's emotional needs are met? 

It is insanity for most of us, if not all of us. Professional me and mom me are definitely two separate entities. And while professional me can sit here and tell you all of these things and make them sound good. Mom me is freaking out all the time, bursting into tears with my friends on the phone, hyperventilating inside. I call my friends who are therapists often and let them talk me down. I say this because I think just exercising self-compassion and recognizing how difficult this is on all of us is just one of the most important things. Like our children, we need good sleep, good diet, exercise, fresh air. We can't sacrifice ourselves for them. We need all of those things too. And the better we take care of ourselves, we're better for them. Exercise the same compassion to yourself that you offer to your children. You're going to have good days and bad days, and try not to beat yourself up. We, especially moms, are so programmed to beat ourselves up. It doesn't help and we don't deserve it. We're all just doing our best.

What resources are out there?

If you go to PBS.org/parents, there's some good information on there, mostly for younger kids, but really I think the tips can be applied broadly as well. They have a section in there just on COVID and going back to school. The American Psychological Association, APA.org, has a lot of good information right now, too. There's a lot of good self-help workbooks for children and teens out there. A couple that I'll mention for children, there's one called “The Worry Workbook for Kids” by Deborah Ledley and Muniya Khanna. There's one out there called “Anxiety Relief for Teens” by Regine Galanti. These are just books that have exercises that your teen or child can do or you can do with them to help teach coping skills for anxiety. Also, reaching out to the school counselor is an excellent, excellent idea and a wonderful resource. They can help support your child in school and connect you with outside resources.

  • Podcast
Latin School vintage sign on wall

When Linda Cohn '69 was shown a picture of a Latin School of Chicago sign for sale on eBay, she thought it looked very familiar. This wasn't just any sign, this was the sign that greeted Linda and her classmates each day as they entered 59 E. Scott Street, Latin's home for upper and middle school from the mid-50s - 1969. Linda's class, the Class of 1969, was the last class to graduate from the Scott Street building; seeing the sign again felt like finding a long lost old friend. And finding the sign on the heels of her class' 50th reunion seemed like more than a coincidence. Perhaps it was time for sign to return home?

Linda decided to reach out to class rep Ron Pen '69 and a plan soon formed. Linda and Ron contacted their classmates asking who would be interested in helping to purchase the sign so it could be donated to Latin. Riding high on a wave of nostalgia following their 50th reunion, classmates eagerly and generously pitched in.

This summer, the Latin School of Chicago sign made its way to the current upper school at North and Clark. While a permanent spot and plaque are in the works, the sign temporarily hangs in the Alumni Office, where it will greet alumni visiting the school and inspire conversation with students when we can once again welcome visitors. Thanks, Class of 1969. And welcome home, old friend.

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