Life at CSUS

Crystal’s New Diversity and Equity Initiatives; An Interview with Ms. Wade

By: Sarina D. (‘19)

This year, Crystal’s diversity and equity initiatives are at an all-time high, with a new program focused on continuity throughout the high-school experience and preparing students for the world not just academically but as open-minded and thoughtful human beings. At the center of these initiatives is the director of a new position dedicated predominantly to equity and social justice here in our community–Ms. Wade.

Many of us know her as a  beloved middle school English or director of the Peninsula Bridge program, but now she is bridging her passions for aiding underrepresented students and education to serve a new role on campus: fostering diversity and social justice at Crystal and helping students to learn about themselves in the context of the world around them.

But what exactly is she doing? Many of us are now familiar with programs such as community forum and human development, but you may not know how Ms. Wade is involved with directing, organizing, and executing these events, or how she plans to foment inclusion and diversity within the school and our community. I caught up with her in her office before school this week to find the answers to these questions, and learn about what led to her taking on this new role.

Growing up in a household of educators with a father who was a principal of a local school, Ms. Wade saw firsthand the effects of a community invested in making education accessible to everyone, even in a small town.  “Education is in my nature and nurture,” she jokes. When coming to Crystal, Ms. Wade was interested in all the all the amazing opportunities private institutions like Crystal can afford students and members of the community, and also instantly became passionate about changing and shaping the narrative of the community.

“I think Crystal does a really good job of being a welcoming and inclusive community, and of responding to individual student needs, but what I would like to see is how we can commit to some of of the more foundational issues that pop up. We tend to not engage in challenging or difficult issues because of this ‘culture of niceness’ that happens in our schools, but I think we as a community could stand to get a little more uncomfortable.”

In the first four years of her second years here at Crystal, Ms. Wade served as a sixth and seventh grade English teacher, famous for her ability to get students to read for fun through a reading log and perfect tips for annotating that we still use today.  Those of us who had her in the middle school will never forget our interdisciplinary projects, Of Mice and Men mock trial, and reading the infamous Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

In just four years after starting at Crystal, Ms. Wade became involved with the organization Peninsula Bridge, a program that actually initially attracted her when she was interviewing at Crystal, as she began her teaching career with a similar organization.  The program provides support and resources for low-income or disadvantaged students in their academic careers and path to college, and Ms. Wade soon enough became the site director for the organization at Crystal.  Her role entailed emphasizing Crystal’s partnership with the broader community, and thinking about who has access to the necessary resources to attend college, as well as getting more students on this track.

In the past year, however, Ms. Wade has combined her love for teaching and education with her passion for supporting a diverse range of students, including underrepresented and disadvantaged students, to take on a new role here at Crystal. It started with Crystal First, an enrichment program for students accepted to Crystal who belong to organizations like Peninsula Bridge or identify themselves as the first in their family to attend college. This served as an internal Crystal version of Peninsula Bridge which ultimately became the entry point for  Ms. Wade’s involvement with diversity programs on campus, in addition to her participation in professional development goals related to inclusion and equity within the Crystal community. Through a series of complicated twists and turns, Ms. Wade’s involvement in these various diversity programs precipitated her new role as the official director of diversity and equity initiatives.

When asked how she wants to change the community, Ms. Wade says that, “I think Crystal does a really good job of being a welcoming and inclusive community, and of responding to individual student needs, but what I would like to see is how we can commit to some of of the more foundational issues that pop up. We tend to not engage in challenging or difficult issues because of this ‘culture of niceness’ that happens in our schools, but I think we as a community could stand to get a little more uncomfortable.”

Changing the narrative and combating the culture of niceness is no easy task, however. This year, the team is focused on continuity.

Regarding her goals for this specific school year, Ms. Wade says that, “In the last couple of years, we have spent time thinking about strong programming that we have that is kind of a one-off event, such as community service days and all school assemblies for community forum. This year is all about taking that programming, making it more authentic and ongoing, and thinking about why we are doing it,”  

The team has designated a new identity development goal at each grade level, starting with identity at the individual level and expanding to on campus, in the community, and in our society as a whole. Moreover, each grade level will tackle an important social issue.

“I really enjoyed our recent human develop meeting about the dangers of the single story because it was interesting to think about how quickly we make assumptions and how detrimental they can be to our communities,” says Natalie Brewster, a junior who participated in last week’s human development event on assumptions. 

The upper school team of grade level advisors have put a ton of time and effort into the program. Ms. Wade’s job in all of this is to support the teachers leading the initiatives at each grade level, and to provide each teacher with the support and resources they may need need as if not to add a burden to individual advisors.

And so far it’s been working out pretty well.

“I really enjoyed our recent human develop meeting about the dangers of the single story because it was interesting to think about how quickly we make assumptions and how detrimental they can be to our communities,” says Natalie Brewster, a junior who participated in last week’s human development event on assumptions.   

The objective of human development is not for every event to pan out perfectly, but to open up important discussions that students would not traditionally get to participate in within the classroom. “Ultimately, the goal this year is to not only to have human development more regularly, but also to get our students to think more critically,” Ms. Wade says.

In addition to human development, the Multicultural Leadership Team(MLT) has also made large strides this year. Traditionally, the MLT has been responsible for one-off events like community forum, but now that human development exists, the committee can focus on its original goal of faculty development. Every month, they hold a meeting after school and invite both students and faculty to attend. The first half hour of the meeting focuses on a joint activity exploring a current event that might involve an issue in our immediate community, or in our society at large. The second half of the meeting is designed for small personal learning and is a critical time for faculty to test-run their material on students. Teachers are put in set small groups for the year, and every teacher has a designated focus for their session, whether that be a new curriculum, a type of facilitation, or a personal growth goal. Every meeting one faculty member in the small group has the opportunity to present their project.

This is where students come in. Students can sign up to attend MLT meetings on a monthly basis, and are slotted into these small groups to listen and give feedback to the faculty member regarding their presentation. A teacher might be creating a new unit or a culminating project, and students can give honest and helpful feedback to the teacher in order to improve the program.

In essence, MLT aims to aid faculty members in their professional development goals and provides faculty members with a space in which they can dedicate themselves to improving their work as an educator, academically and as a mentor to students.

MLT also emphasizes important social issues such as gender inclusion through the Gender Inclusion Task Force, a group of students and faculty who explore gender roles on campus.

Overall, Ms. Wade and all the faculty members on campus are working hard this year to provide the Crystal community with the necessary tools to thrive in the real-world after leaving the ‘Crystal bubble’. They are working to provide students and faculty with a space for development in order to foster a community of individuals who can truly benefit our society through harnessing an understanding and appreciation for diversity and bringing a new, open-minded perspective to the table. The diversity and equity initiatives can be best summarized by Ms. Wade herself; “We want students in our community to leave Crystal as agents of change.”

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