By Frances Weller | May 20, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT – Updated May 20 at 7:49 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – At a time when the country is grading diversity, equity, and inclusion within schools, organizations, and places of employment, the assistant superintendent for New Hanover County Schools says the district is working hard to get to the head of the class.
“We want to make sure that we provide all of our students the opportunities,” said Dr. LaChawn Smith. “It doesn’t guarantee a child a spot. It doesn’t put one child in front of another. All children still have to do the work. But we want to make sure that we are insuring they have access to the opportunity. So that’s the definition of equity for us.”
Smith says it’s about creating a culture of belonging for students and staff.
“So, I’ll use this analogy,” she said. “If I’m planning a party, and if I’m being inclusive, then I’m going to have folks assist me in planning that party. But if I’m focusing on belonging, then I want people to feel comfortable in coming to the party.”
Smith said there are two elements that have been important in diversity, equity, and inclusion training. For starters, she said, it’s teachers understanding their own biases.
“And we all have them,” Smith said. “So understanding whether it is something that we are looking for confirmation bias. If someone who looks like me — someone who acts like me. If I see someone who looks like me, I’m going to make the assumption — confirmation bias — that they’re going to be just like me. Well, that’s unfair.”
Smith said the other element is microaggressions. Mispronouncing a student’s name, for example, or failing to take the time to learn how to pronounce it can have a lasting impact on a young student.
She equates it to bee stings.
“Unless you are allergic to them, typically, one bee sting doesn’t cause too much damage but imagine if you were stung by a bee 10, 15, 20 times a day, every day. Unfortunately that’s what some folks experience when we don’t do the work of having folks understand the impact of implicit bias as well as the impact of microaggressions.”
New Hanover County Schools has a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee that meets once a month. It includes students.
“Students have a lot to say and I think we as adults can learn a lot from listening to them and understanding their experiences,” Smith said.
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