Each year, faculty and staff who attend the NAIS People of Color Conference (POCC) return to Lowell recharged and motivated to put what they've learned into action. The conference is known to transcend professional development expectations, with attendees fostering deep personal connections lasting for years. This year's conference—"New Decades, New Destinies: Challenging Self, Changing Systems, Choosing Justice
"—featured inspirational speakers Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Khyati Joshi, Lezley McSpadden-Head, and Bettina L. Love, and workshops tackling hard-hitting topics such as anti-racist teaching, gender equity, and social justice in schools.
Not only did seven of Lowell's faculty and staff attend the conference, but they also took active roles to support the conference. Kavan Yee, Middle School division director, returned as the facilitator for the Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) affinity group, hosting over 500 AAPI educators from around the world. Additionally, Academic Technologist Chanel Malik served as a conference tech assistant for the Black/African Heritage Affinity Group and as a consultant, lending her expertise in delivering information and resources seamlessly in a virtual space.
In her 8th year attending the conference, Chanel appreciated colleagues' support that enabled her to attend. Often referred to as "The Well," PoCC is a sacred space for people of color who can see themselves reflected in all aspects of independent schools and feel validated as they connect with others who share common experiences. Chanel was particularly moved by Dr. Bettina Love's call to move curriculum beyond learning about the struggles of a people and instead to learn about them as a whole, "beyond our pain but through our triumph," Chanel says, quoting Dr. Love. Dr. Love urges educators to integrate lessons about African Americans throughout the year, not just in recognition of Black History Month nor watered down through the lens of White Supremacy.
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Michelle Belton says the conference offered "tools to challenge systems." After attending the "Social Justice Summit: Waking Up NAIS Schools," Michelle considers the question, what truth-telling do independent schools need to do? Knowing that independent schools weren't made for Black children, she is examining how we can work towards free and fair education, how independent schools can use their resources to reimagine education, and how to hold people accountable to affect such changes.
Donna Lindner, head of school, says the keynote speakers "challenged us to think about our roles as independent schools in an America that does not value people of color." Some of her favorite quotes from speakers were:
- "Independent schools exist within the complex history where we've all had to bear the burden of America's fantasy of itself,"Dr. Eddie Glaude, opening speaker.
- "When you start getting uncomfortable, recognize that's you actually getting somewhere," Dr. Khyati, Joshi, workshop panelist.
- "Our (black and brown) children have a right to be protected, to have a beautiful childhood…to be whimsical, free," Dr. Bettina Love, closing speaker.
Reading Specialist Jamie Weng says she "brought back more questions than strategies," as she was "blown away" by this year's speakers. They evoked many thoughts and emotions for Jamie, conveying "so many feelings I've been feeling for so long but did not know how to express," she says. She reflects on how to address beliefs that "kids are too young" to learn about difficult topics, what does it say when communities are uneasy around affinity groups, and how do we spend our privilege?
Kavan Yee, Middle School division director, believes the conference happened at a critical time when as a nation, we are "looking to heal the racial injustices and strife that has occurred over the last four years," he says. But, Kavan is hopeful. He considers the Middle School as proof of living the conference's theme—"Challenging Self, Changing Systems, and Choosing Justice"—citing Lowell's curriculum and social activism (student-led marches, letter-writing campaigns, the ALLY Group, and Climate Club) as evidence.