Director of Cultural Competency

Just beyond the graduation pics, Mother’s Day shout outs, and the debate between “Laurel and Yanny” (by the way, I hear “Laurel”) there lie a number of stories on my daily Facebook feed that have left me in a state of smh – “shaking my head” – or contemplating why there is “so much hate.”

Two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, two Native American teens pulled off college tour at Colorado State, a black student interrogated after napping at Yale, and the latest, a racially-charged rant in a NYC restaurant. “At least no one was hurt,” I read in the commentary of one of the articles. But should that be the standard by which individuals are treated?

Sure, I can use these as examples of why a cross-cultural communication approach to cultural competency is important in today’s social media-driven society. From a personal PR perspective, who wants to be the next Aaron Schlossberg or Sarah Braasch and have their names memorialized online? This “say no wrong” angle may be useful, but it is limited to preserving a positive online and offline reputation. To be virtuous demands more. We ought to prepare individuals that are empowered to be leaders and change agents for a more just society. Young people that are able to recognize situations of inequity and not only feel compelled to act, but are ready to do so.

I look around Berwick and there are many tools for this type of learning to happen. One of the goals of Curriculum 2020, soon to be just known as the curriculum, is to continue to seamlessly integrate diversity, equity, and cultural competency material into everyday classroom work, going beyond a Heroes and Holidays approach that was pervasive during my school years. Cultural competency standards and outcomes have been identified and are focused on three areas. Adapted from the work of Paul Gorski, the three areas are:
  1. CULTURAL AWARENESS – Students are exposed to material from various cultural backgrounds.
  2. CULTURAL PROFICIENCY – Students develop skills necessary to build relationships with individuals from different cultural backgrounds.
  3. EQUITY LITERACY– Students develop the skills and motivations to address and redress patterns of advantage and disadvantage in the Berwick community, U.S. community, and the global community.
Supporting this faculty work is Berwick’s SEED Program, a faculty-led professional development in diversity, equity, and inclusion. The program is completing its second year, thanks to Lucy Pollard, Cassie Warnick, and Lindsey Weiner. Average attendance is 20-25 participants. Those who are present engage in two-hour sessions, six to eight times a year about sometimes polarizing issues. This makes them more capable of facilitating effective conversation amongst their peers and students, and more competent to deal with crises when they do occur. Berwick SEED continues to be the only consistent cross-divisional experience of its kind at Berwick.   

For our youngest in the community, their training begins with Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  Although not a direct connection, if you take the time to explore the core competencies of SEL you’ll find they naturally lend themselves to cultural competency work through their tenets of self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Through these tenets students gain the skills of emotional awareness and management, empathy, relationship building, and ethical decision making.

In the coming year Upper School students will have the opportunity to be a part of the Global Citizen Pathway. Students who choose this route will have the support and ability to direct their choice of electives and coursework towards global and equity issues. As they progress down the Pathway, they will find ways to turn the awareness gained in the classroom into some form of social action or change campaign to have an impact on Berwick or in the greater Seacoast area. In the past, we have had students take on similar initiatives, although not connected to their coursework, in their efforts with the Outreach Club, Diversity Club, and/or Alliance. In fact, Ainsley Clapp ’18 harnessed her curiosity and passion for diversity and equity work and developed an IP on her schoolwide efforts that culminated with a half-day experience for the Upper School where students engaged with issues of identity and inclusion. Very few students, or adults for that matter, are able to pull off a half-day conference for all 300-ish of their peers. The day began with a keynote, followed by a large group experiential activity, and individual sessions that utilized parents, teachers, and peers as presenters and facilitators of challenging conversations – quite impressive.     

I am happy that Berwick approaches cultural competency from both perspectives: virtuous and useful. I am inspired that we are actively preparing our students so they can be the ones who facilitate welcoming conversation at their local café, ensure a positive experience for all on their college tour, or when they need to, de-escalate conflict associated with and/or stand with others being harassed for some aspect of their identity. I am looking forward to this generation of Berwick students popping up on my newsfeed and gaining notoriety for the productive dialogues that they are a part of, the social action groups they are organizing, and the positive changes that they are making in their future campuses, workplaces, and beyond.    

Serving Maine, The Seacoast of New Hampshire, and the North Shore of Massachusetts

Berwick Academy, situated on an 80-acre campus just over one hour north of Boston, serves 600 students, Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12, from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Deeply committed to its mission of promoting virtue and useful knowledge, Berwick Academy empowers students to be creative and bold. Berwick strives to graduate alumni who shape their own learning, take risks, ask thoughtful questions, and come to understand and celebrate their authentic selves.  Founded in 1791 and rooted in a tradition of college preparation, our culture of innovation prepares students for a complex and dynamic world.