From Head of School Donald M. Austin
December 13, 2018
College Athletes of Tomorrow
May 3, 2019
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Building for Belonging

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s statement reminds us that imagining a shared future is only the beginning of one of the most important tasks an organization can undertake. Newark Academy’s storied history and myriad accomplishments are foundational, but our school’s ability to remain a dynamic institution requires that we plan for the years yet to come. Anticipating opportunities and challenges and developing strategies to respond advantageously are primary responsibilities of the NA Board of Trustees, and the results are brought to light in each new iteration of the school’s Strategic Plan.

The Strategic Planning Committee, consisting of Trustees and school administration, recently developed the 2019-2023 Strategic Plan after considering a number of key questions about Newark Academy’s future. Among these: “How do we foster a sense of belonging once [our] gifted students, faculty and staff are in the building?”

The Committee included the following statement as part of the finished plan (available at www.newarka.edu/strategicplan):

“The plan that follows offers thoughtful, actionable and measurable responses to these questions through various initiatives bound by a single belief: that a sense of belonging, shared by all constituents, is essential if we are to raise the level of excellence at Newark Academy. The attention devoted to matters of equity and inclusion in this plan translates to a commitment not only to recruiting students, faculty and staff who are socially and economically diverse, but also to ensuring that all members of our diverse community feel a true sense of belonging. In a rapidly changing world, NA reaffirms its belief in the importance of human connections across differences and in the capacity for mutual empathy.”

Here we highlight some of the diversity and inclusion initiatives already in place and the ways in which they are enriching the student experience and strengthening the NA community.

Equity and Inclusion: “A Constellation of Opportunities”

When he arrived at Newark Academy this past August, Director of Equity and Inclusion Gardy Guiteau was delighted to learn about existing programs that seek to make the NA experience equitable and inclusive for all students, families, faculty and staff. Still, he set his sights on a more complete incorporation of these principles into the fabric of the community.

“I envision Newark Academy as a place where all constituencies engage with the work of creating an equitable and inclusive school,” says Gardy.

“There should be many opportunities to learn, to reflect, to engage in difficult conversations. There should also be joyous celebrations of the diversity found in this community. There should be many ways for students to act as thoughtful, culturally competent leaders. I envision a constellation of opportunities.”

To develop this constellation, Gardy has reached out to members of the faculty and administration in order to build upon existing programs and to develop new ones. “I want to ensure that our students experience an intentional trajectory for growth, one that allows them to develop the skills of cultural competency from the first weeks of 6th grade to Commencement,” he says.

He has also connected strongly with students. Gardy has opened his office to students, who affectionately call him “Mr. G,” and is a frequent face at club meetings and student events. He also served this year as an 8th grade advisor. “That opportunity gave me real insight into the experiences of the student body,” says Gardy, who enjoyed developing connections with his advisees. “The kids,” he reflects, “have made my time at Newark Academy enjoyable and worthwhile.”

Holding Peer-to-Peer Conversations

What does it mean to be a member of the Newark Academy community who is mindful of equity and inclusion? Throughout the spring semester, this question has animated the work of Peer Leaders, seniors who serve as group facilitators and role models for 9th grade students. Guided by Gardy, 16 seniors have engaged groups of freshmen in discussions about identity, inclusion, stereotypes and social bias.

Senior Peer Leader Samantha Keller has found the work of engaging 9th graders in discussions of inclusion to be a particularly powerful way to help build a stronger school community. “About half of my peer group consists of students who are new to Newark Academy,” says Samantha. “We want to make sure these new students, and all students, understand the importance of not only respecting each other’s differences but learning from them, too.”

In future years, Gardy envisions students on the Equity and Inclusion Team, a student and faculty leadership group, working with Peer Leaders to co-facilitate discussions with 9th grade students. “There’s great power in peer-to-peer conversations about inclusivity,” notes Gardy. “We want to create opportunities for those connections, which will serve as the foundation of a community in which all members feel a sense of belonging.”

We want to make sure these new students, and all students, understand the importance of not only respecting each other’s differences but learning from them, too.” – Samantha Keller ’19

Engaging in Professional Development

On a crisp morning in February, the entire Newark Academy faculty, staff and administration gathered to learn about the skills needed to ensure that the school is an inclusive, equitable community. During a 90-minute workshop, Jenna Chandler-Ward, educator and co-founder of the consultancy Teaching While White, asked attendees to reflect on their own experiences of gender and race and to understand the varied experiences of their students. The workshop created space for structured conversations, while Jenna also offered insights and practical tips. During breakout sessions, academic departments discussed curricula and teaching practices, as administrators and professional staff considered questions of school climate and policy. The program aligned well with the ongoing work that many faculty and staff members have undertaken individually in order to deepen their understanding of themselves, students and the curriculum in relation to equity and inclusion.

Partnering with Parents

This past September, Gardy addressed members of the Newark Academy Parents Association during one of the first weeks of the school year and one of his first weeks at NA. In a talk titled From Diversity to Belonging: Parents and Families as Partners in Equity and Inclusion, Gardy sought to share with current parents his philosophy and approach to equity and inclusion work as well as his intended themes for the year. He also invited parents to partner with him and other members of the administration in creating a school community that, as he says,

“continues to prioritize and foster belonging for all members.” In his talk, Gardy explained the importance of diversity as well as how the strength of a school community and the aims of student academic success are entwined.

In the months since his presentation, Gardy has had opportunities to meet with, work with and counsel parents. “Parents of all backgrounds and of students in both the Middle School and Upper School have felt comfortable reaching out to me for support in learning about matters of equity and inclusion,” he says. “From building connections at school-sponsored events, to supporting the Black and Latino Families Network, I have had very good interactions with parents thus far, and I look forward to continuing to partner with them.”

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the morning of Monday, January 18, environmental activist Tanya Fields addressed a crowd of more than 100 members of the Newark Academy community, including students, faculty, staff, administration, parents and alumni. Tanya was the keynote speaker at the first Newark Academy MLK Day of Service, a morning of service and community engagement that occurred on the annual school holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Working with alumni, parents, student leaders and administrators, Director of Community Service Sarah Fischer helped initiate the day with Gardy. “We wanted to move beyond a single service project and use the day to engage the community in thought about MLK’s dedication to addressing income inequality,” Sarah says. “The day connected with our year-long focus on poverty.” In her address, Tanya discussed the role that community gardens can play in creating healthier environments for families, especially those with limited access to fresh food. She also challenged the audience to think about institutional practices that reinforce poverty.

Following Tanya’s presentation, participants were able to engage in one of three activities: a question-and-answer breakout session with her, an on-campus service project, or an interactive simulation designed to illustrate inequity in community resources. “It was wonderful to see so many members of the community coming together in learning and reflection,” says Sarah, who is already thinking about next year’s MLK Day of Service.

Connecting Students and Alumni of Color

While attending the Alumni of Color Breakfast during Homecoming & Reunion two years ago, Lena Ryals ’94 recognized that, while Newark Academy has changed in many ways since her days as a student, the challenges many students of color face today are similar to those that she and her contemporaries encountered. “As a student, I would have benefited from talking with alumni who understood my experiences as a student of color,” says Lena. She is now working with Gardy to create ways for alumni of color to connect with and support current students of color.

“As a student, I would have benefited from talking with alumni who understood my experiences as a student of color.” – Lena Ryals ’94

As a complement to those efforts, Gardy is developing a Students of Color Lunch Series. These lunches aim to offer space for self-identified students of color to connect with one another and to learn from each other about the similarities and differences between their respective experiences at Newark Academy. Students who attended the 2018 National Association of Independent Schools Student Diversity Leadership Conference last fall returned from there eager to help launch the series.

Once the lunch series has launched, Gardy hopes to invite Lena and other alumni of color to an event each school year. “Alumni can bring a unique perspective,” reflects Lena. “We know the strength of the Newark Academy alumni network, and we can partner with students to help them make the most of their experiences while on campus and after graduation.”

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