My husband has become one of those people who make sourdough bread. He made his own starter, baking loaves in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some were more successful than others. When he really started making progress is when he started experimenting with different kinds of flours. The best mix by far was one of strong bread flour, rye flour, spelt flour and einkorn flour. (I had never heard of einkorn, but it’s an heirloom wheat variety.) Now that bread was good—complex flavor, beautiful aroma, great crust…sorry, am I making you hungry?
So, aside from making us dream of warm bread, what is my point? The point is, a mix of different things is a good thing. Different flours, different cultures, different languages…they all make our lives richer, more interesting, and provide a window of opportunity to share our singular point of view of the world and learn about others.
I work at The Branch School in Houston, Texas. We are a private, pre-k through 8th school with a STEAM focused, project-based curriculum. Our teachers provide a warm, nurturing atmosphere for our students, where they learn it’s ok to ask questions—in fact, they are encouraged to! And we have a very diverse student population; 40% are students of color. So, diversity is something we embrace and celebrate. Why? We believe what Stephen Covey said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Like my husband’s bread, one ingredient is good, but can get a little “stale.”
In their report “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students,” Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia demonstrate that “the Benefits of school diversity run in all directions.” They say that there is increasing evidence that “diversity makes us smarter,” an axiom that some universities and colleges have embraced for years, and the rest of us are coming to appreciate at the K-12 levels. The authors write: “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” What parent or educator doesn’t want some of that! Parents look around and understand that their children are growing up in a country with rapidly changing demographics. So, students who go to schools that embrace diversity are better prepared to function and thrive in a diverse workplace. Cordova-Cobo, Wells and Fox also note in their paper that 96% of major employers say that it is “important” that employees be “comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.”
We all know that a person’s outlook is broadened by travel, getting to know other cultures in person. However, for most of us, we can only travel a few weeks at most a year. Becoming familiar with the things that are new to us only makes our lives richer. And by being with people that are different than we are, we learn the most important thing - that our differences are superficial. What we are, at the core is, pretty much the same thing, and we want the same things—to be happy, to feel like we belong, to have friends and new experiences, to learn and to have fun. Not so different, right?
I can’t think of a more important criteria for choosing a school for your child than one that embraces and celebrates all people, all colors, all cultures. Every child should feel embraced, welcomed and safe—safe to express themselves and be who they are, not who others might think they should be. Imagine the confidence that an atmosphere would give a child, or anyone for that matter!
Our staff is participating in a series of webinars on Racial Literacy sponsored by ISAS (Independent School Association of the Southwest), as well as seminars on peacemaking. They actively put the skills they’ve learned to use in the classroom as well as the workroom. ISAS is a prestigious group of independent schools with exceptionally high standards, and is committed to inclusion, excellence, and diversity—concepts which The Branch School actively practices and embraces.
Houston is a very multicultural city. You can see this in our restaurant scene, where in a one mile radius you can visit a Korean barbecue restaurant, a vegan Mexican restaurant, a vegan soul food restaurant, a Salvadoran, Argentinian, Polish, Greek, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese restaurant, and, of course, a Whataburger. The Branch School reflects the multicultural society of our area. Since we are a private school, you will see us celebrate not only Christmas but the great celebrations of other religions. Within our diverse community, you will see our students thrive. And you will see them be stretched with a challenging curriculum, bolstered by caring, passionate, excellent teachers who take the time to really get to know their students and how they learn best. If you are looking for an independent school that values kindness, excellence, diversity and inclusion, and social justice, I suggest you give us a look! We welcome your interest.
Robbin Mills is the Business Administrator at The Branch School. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with a BBA in Business Management.