Blog: Inclusion & Community Engagement at OES

Dori King

As the Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement at OES, Dori's charge is to support students, employees, and parents in creating a school where all involved thrive.

One Book, One Author, Many Experiences

Last spring, I started the hunt for a special book. A book that could be a mirror and a window for our community into the experiences of those who are marginalized. This book would be a cornerstone for our foundational understanding of human difference. It would be a catalyst for creating understanding of identity and lived experience. 

Our amazing librarians knew I was on the hunt for such a book and they shared many prospective titles with me. But at first, the search proved elusive. One rainy spring afternoon, as I was lamenting that I might not find it, our Middle School Librarian Patrick Fuller showed me the beautiful cover of a book called Piecing Me Together. I borrowed it before even Patrick could read it, and I was on a plane the next day with the book in hand. 

I read the entire book during my three-hour flight. 

This, I quickly realized, was the one we needed.

I do not remember if I emailed Patrick right away or if I returned with a smile that said this is the book. It was an extraordinarily well written, poetic piece—offering readers an insight into identity, history, friendships, and social justice. And it was set in Portland. 

But I wanted to meet the extraordinary person that had written this magical book. Who, I kept thinking, was Renée Watson?  

Like any modern researcher I went to the internet and began to find bits and pieces of Renée’s story that intrigued me. She grew up in Portland and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a veteran teacher and artist in residence. She formed a group called I, Too Arts Collective that transformed the brownstone in which poet Langston Hughes lived into an art center. 

I knew immediately that we needed read Renée’s book and we needed her to join our community, if only for a day. 

On October 11, Renée brought her knowledge, her wisdom, and her story to us. She built upon the employees’ reading and discussion of Piecing Me Together that began the school year by offering a deeper dive into the book via reflection and discussion. 

She discussed writing with students. She also facilitated a two-hour workshop for teachers on culturally relevant teaching techniques, to teachers and encouraging them to use methods that might be outside their comfort zone. Finally, that evening in a session moderated by OES students and open to the entire community, she shared the story of writing Piecing Me Together and how the book connects to her own life and experiences. 

But in Renée’s beautiful wake, we are left with important questions—ones that speak to the work we still need to do as a community:

  • How do we create a curriculum that is inclusive?
  • How do our school’s policies and practices impact students and families from different backgrounds?
  • How can we better serve all kinds of learners in the classroom?
  • How do we structure difficult discussions and arrive at the understandings and agreements that are foundational for discussing these topics?
  • How do we get to know our students—and their self-identities—even better?
  • How can we ensure that we listen first to understand?

These questions encompass everything from institutional structures to academic programs. That is the broad scope of inclusion, which touches everything that exists in a school setting.

Thus, we must start intentionally. To do so, this year we will work to build a foundation that supports inclusion by:

  • Establishing an inclusion advisory committee. The inclusion advisory committee will support the design of parent programming, review the iterations of the inclusion strategic plan, and provide a forum to discuss topics related to inclusion.
  • Adding equity informed dialogues for employees. Northwest Resolutions has provided support to the intercultural facilitator cohort in developing three dialogues that will be offered during the year to support our staff in thinking about communication, micro-aggressions and micro-inequities, and our personal histories.
  • Offering Intentional Parent Programming. Our focus is shared language and understanding of cultural competence to support creating an inclusive community. This will begin with a discussion of Piecing Me Together for parents in December. All the resources for the discussion will be accessible online and parents are encouraged to begin their own discussion groups off campus. 

Our thanks, appreciation, and love to Renée Watson for visiting our community and sharing her book and herself.

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