Step One stands out among preschools in its collaborative governance structure: staff, teachers, and parents work on committees that shape the direction of the school. One vital committee, part of Step One from the beginning, is Diversity and Inclusion. To honor the Committee’s own diversity, we spoke to two members about their perspectives. Find below reflections from Brett Cook, artist and educator who served on the committee from 2009-2011, and Susana Telles Casher, who brings experience with diversity work to her role as Step One’s Program Director and has co-chaired the parent committee for the past 5 years.
There are two responses I wanted to bring forward about my time on the committee. First is that we saw it as a place where we could all practice being in relationship to difference. We don’t usually get that kind of practice, and the committee presented it, just in terms of who was there. We were a complex group with different countries of origin, family structures, class backgrounds. We saw ourselves as working to make healthy families, so we wanted the adults to practice just like the kids at Step One do. Practice getting to know people from different backgrounds, practice championing and embracing equity and inclusivity.
The other thing I remember about my time on the committee is that there were a number of teachers serving on it, including myself. Having so many people with literacy as educators who worked on social justice brought a lot of passion to our work. We had collective expertise and wanted to use it to benefit the community. It was powerful to have the committee as a place where we could impact curriculum and really make a difference. There was intellectual rigor around the work we were doing, plus a feeling that we were nurturing the school.
Personally, this work remains so important to me. In my artwork and in the classroom, I believe in creating architectures where people can see themselves within each other, while still recognizing their differences. We’re different and we are the same. That “both/and” kind of thinking was what made my experience on the committee so powerful. Our culture is typically binary, so we don’t get a lot of experience holding multiple aspects of identity at the same time. But as a multi-ethnic child of the 60s and 70s, I never had just one identity, and I’ve come to realize that we’re all complicated. The committee was a space to realize the diversity in our community and in ourselves.
Susana Telles Casher:
When I first applied to work at Step One, I was really excited to see the explicit language used around anti-bias education. I had never seen another preschool so open about its commitment to bringing racial, economic, and family-structure diversity to its program. I was thrilled to bring my own education and experience with inclusion and racial diversity work, and was impressed by the knowledge and hands-on teaching of anti-bias that had already existed at Step One for decades.
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee has evolved over the years and continues to change and grow with the faculty and families at Step One. We currently have a teacher committee, which is focused on anti-bias curriculum, professional development, and inclusion issues that come up among children. The teachers also organize our Peace Week and Pride Celebrations, annual events that teach children about fairness, social justice, and changemakers. Our parent committee is a place for families to come together to support one another, share resources, and organize events and community-building activities. The group of parents guides the work of the group, which means each year there can be a different focus or inspiration.
Over the 4 years I’ve worked at Step One, the group has focused on differences in ability, children and gender identity, talking to children about race, understanding privilege and connecting around activism. Our goal is for families to have a place to come together safely to build community and understanding. We hope that parents continue to do this work even after they leave Step One, reflecting on inclusiveness and diversity in their own lives, and that the children continue to be allies and changemakers as they grow up.