Davies expanding student resources with Diversity Talks

Davies expanding student resources with Diversity Talks

Davies High School educators Carla Wardyga, ELL/English teacher of 26 years, and Stacy Jones, English teacher of 12 years.

LINCOLN – A grant from the Rhode Island Foundation has helped the William M. Davies Jr. Career & Technical High School implement a new, student-led professional development program focused on diversity and inclusion.

The platform, called Diversity Talks, recruits students to facilitate a series of workshops and discussions to be attended by school faculty and staff. Founded in 2017 and based out of Providence, Diversity Talks serves as a platform for youth voices to address the unconscious biases affecting student achievement.

Nearly 100 Davies students applied to be program facilitators this year. A group of nine students was selected by Diversity Talks to undergo a 20-hour Student Facilitator Fellowship where they are trained in areas such as leadership, public speaking and conflict resolution in order to run the workshops.

A $57,730 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation will cover tiers one and two of the program. During tier one, a group of 23 Davies faculty and staff members participate in the student-led workshops, each 90 minutes long, as a professional development opportunity, “to foster a healing space for difficult conversations among colleagues to take place.”

Topics include implicit bias, power and privilege, intersectionality, microaggressions, cultural differences, LGBTQ, student voice, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We felt the need to broach these topics to improve our culture here at Davies for both the staff and the students,” said English teacher Stacy Jones, who helped bring the program to the school with her co-teacher Carla Wardyga. With Adam Flynn-Tabloff being named school director this year, Davies leadership felt it was time to take a closer look at the overall culture of the school.

“Last summer when we started to think about how to re-focus, we felt we needed a culture shift; for the students to better respect and understand each other,” Jones said. “Social and emotional learning is a big focus in many schools, but how do you instill that? We felt this Diversity Talks program touches on everyone in the Davies community and on all of those points.”

English teacher Lyle Nesse said, “My favorite thing about Diversity Talks is that it is run by student leaders at Davies. Diversity Talks seems to have helped these young people find their voices ...”

Auto teacher Mike Strojny called the program, “ the best (professional development) that I have ever attended. It has been very eye-opening.”

Overall, the goal of the program is to improve the learning experiences of students, particularly those identified as “high need” populations.

“Davies has a very diverse student population with students coming in with more social and emotional needs,” Jones said. “Often, the staff demographic doesn’t match student demographic. Programs like this help students to see you in a different light.”

Director Flynn-Tabloff said, “As a participant in several Diversity Talks workshops, I have personally witnessed the powerful connections that are made between faculty and students as we navigate difficult conversations together ...”

The program fits with overall efforts on inclusion, diversity, race/culture and bias. The Davies Diversity Committee was restructured during the 2017-2018 school year and rolled out a new student newsletter to establish a channel for student voices.

Jones said social and emotional learning is a way of “teaching the entire student, not just teaching the content. It’s teaching the content in relation to where they stand emotionally, their background, what engages them, etc. For example, Jones said the majority of Davies students are of color, so she and Wardyga revamped the grade 10 curriculum to include more culturally relevant readings. Sometimes, it’s as simple as purchasing a graph to chart a student’s progress.

“There’s a lot of discussion involved and getting them to open up,” said Wardyga, who has taught at Davies for 26 years. “When confidence comes, they let their guards down, open up and really grow.”

The Davies Diversity Talks Student Facilitator Fellowship cohort consists of, in back row, Jenneya Bennett, Maiyah-Li Lozada, Mayra Soares, Ibi Akomolafe, Jasai Boykin, Kiara Butler; and in front, Luz Correa, Vanessa Semedo, Horacy Cabral, Jason Paternina. Not pictured is Aiden Nivar-Julius.