August seems like a lifetime ago, but you may recall a message in Circle Back that shared our focus this year to examine current gender policies and practices throughout the school. We launched this work at our opening faculty/staff meetings with Joel Baum from Gender Spectrum, who walked us through part one of a two-day workshop. Joel’s presentation provided the professional community with a shared understanding of the issues, challenges, as well as opportunities for us in and out of classrooms. Many questions were lifted up highlighting things such as preferred pronouns, rooming assignments on trips, and bathrooms, to name a few. We were also joined that day by members of our SFFS board, Parents Association, and Equity and Inclusion Committee, who added important parent and board insights to our conversations. We knew there was work to do and we were eager to get started.
With an eighth grade trip to the Sierras occurring right after school started, we focused our attention on being more intentional with our rooming/tent assignments. On our past overnight trips, students have been divided into boy/girl tents and rooms. We researched what other schools were doing, then looked closely at our program and landed on a new practice. Going forward, prior to the overnight trip, students will be asked to make a list of 3-4 students they would feel comfortable rooming with, regardless of gender. Teachers will take this information into consideration and craft groups based on a variety of factors—including friend groups, classroom or advisory groupings, and group size. This approach is consistent with ways the school has created groups in other programs like Arts Electives, MS Activities, and some sports teams. We will also strive to refrain from unnecessary, inappropriate, and unhelpful binary gender configurations. We tested this new approach with our eighth graders in the Sierras and found it worked well.
Another area that we have revisited is the common practice of various moms/dads and sons/daughters events throughout the year: Moms/Dads Nights Out, Mother-Daughter Book Groups, Father-Son Campouts, etc. Again, we found these groups often dividing along strict binary gender lines, and not leaving room for those who identify differently, be they parents, guardians, or students. Members of our administrative team, along with our Parents Association and E&I clerks met and discussed this. We then reached out to our friends at Gender Spectrum for helpful guidance. We were reminded that community is created in many ways and these events are just one way we do this work. One just has to look at the number and diversity of potlucks we host at Friends to see this is in fact what we’re aiming to do: Spanish speakers potlucks, E&I affinity potlucks (single parents, adoptive parents, LGBTQ parents), grade level potlucks, Learning Support Alliance potlucks, mix-it-up potlucks, and on and on…WOW! In addition, we have film nights, Booktopia, parent education speakers, Blue Party, Winter and End of Year Celebrations, service projects, the Craft Fair, and many sports and arts events. We may not always get it right, but our intentions are to create connections in a variety of ways and we do that a lot!
To move forward, we’ve updated the E&I Checklist to include better gender guidelines and language, and are now calling it the "Parents Association Event Checklist" as it will be helpful for any committee or group as they look to plan events. With regard to moms/dads/daughters/sons events specifically, Joel favored a “both/and approach,” meaning that we can still offer gender specific events, but also encourage more general parent/guardian or guardian/kids events open to all. We know the challenge is often in the sheer number of events we offer (“More potlucks? What?!”), but we feel there is room to step away from some events in an effort to make room for others. Lastly, we’re also asking folks who do host these affinity types of events to add the language that says “and all are welcome.” This will allow those who are “allies” interested in sharing with and learning from others the opportunity, while still respecting the affinity connection of the group. Our SFFS team appreciated all this and will look for ways to create space in the months ahead.
Our efforts have reminded us that this is indeed difficult and ongoing work. At times we can feel confused, or that we are giving up something, or not being valued or heard. But if we are going to continue to strive to be a diverse and inclusive community of learners and families, this work is essential. We need to continue to ask difficult questions, embrace hard conversations, listen to and care for each other, and lean into this journey together.
Stay tuned for more updates as the year moves on, and if you have questions or comments please reach out to either your PA, E&I clerks or administrative team. You’re also welcome to join our At The Table conversation on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 8:30-9:30am, where we’ll be talking about gender issues and opportunities.