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Growing a Sense of Belonging

My father built brick flower beds in my childhood home, and my mother laboriously planted rose bushes, petunias, pansies and geraniums to bring life to our yard. While most only saw the beautiful flowers, my mother did the work to water the plants, till the soil, prune the stems and extract the weeds.
Like flowers, an inclusive and welcoming culture does not blossom without deliberate and intentional cultivation. When we nurture an environment where everyone has the privilege of belonging, there is a sense of belonging that enables students to achieve their highest level.

Watching second graders plant gladioli recently, I remembered when I was their age and my mother let me plant sunflowers in our garden. Sunflowers didn’t match the motif of the yard, but she knew I needed to have a choice if she wanted me to learn about caring for flowers. Last year students had choices too as they bonded and cultivated compassion for others. Lower School students created versions of Todd Parr’s book, It’s Okay to be Different, celebrating what makes each of them unique. Middle schoolers gave UpWords presentations where they related their own experiences to the School’s guiding principles. As they piloted the Story Corp app on Grandparents and Special Friends Day, students practiced their listening skills and honored other people’s stories, demonstrating what it means to take care of our community. At other times, students advocated for a gender inclusive dress code and organized a walkout to bring awareness to school safety. This year we will continue to “cultivate compassion” through our Community Day when Middle School students will work toward a shared understanding of what it means to honor everyone’s humanity.

As adults supporting student growth, we are modeling the way and expanding our own understanding of inclusivity and equity issues. One example is the work of the School Climate Advisory Committee (SCAC), which has brought attention to the true cost of tuition and identified additional expenses that create hardship for some families. As a result of this analysis, students now receive a laptop to use in seventh and eighth grade that they can keep for high school. In May, the Board of Trustees voted to include the SCAC Chair, Antonio Lucero ‘91, as an ex-officio member of the Board to further work toward making Graland a more equitable and inclusive community. Last year we administered the Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism to hear perspectives from all stakeholders. As a school, we are committed to seeing, hearing and valuing all members of our community.

Our faculty and staff are on the front lines ensuring students pursue academic excellence and find purpose to become engaged citizens of the world. They may not always see the full fruits of their labor, yet they continuously plant seeds and nurture students toward maturity. Last year we evaluated our entire hiring process and began working with NEMNET, a firm that specializes in placing the best, diverse teachers in independent schools. We are also continuing to work with a group of 20 faculty and staff in the Diversity and Equity Cohort to facilitate comprehensive, yearlong training. This year, we are differentiating the cohort so that previous members can continue their work and complete an impact project for the school. Our administrative team also participates in parallel learning to the cohort, ensuring teachers are supported in developing meaningful, positive relationships with students and creating classroom cultures where everyone belongs.

Not surprisingly, when I brought my mom to Graland, we spent much of the time admiring the spectacular flowers and discussing the hard, intentional work to maintain such vibrancy. The natural grasses, potted annuals, perennials, evergreens, shrubs, and flowers all require individualized care. Just like our master gardener Sarah Shutts prunes, pulls weeds, mulches, plucks beetles, hand waters and much more, we too must put in the work of fostering a sense of belonging at Graland.
Born and raised in Denver, Oscar has a bachelor’s degree in English from Northwestern University. He leads a variety of diversity efforts engaging students, faculty and families at Graland, and in his free time Oscar enjoys skiing, playing basketball and reading to his daughter.

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.