Saltus has chosen Black History Month as a time to celebrate its ongoing achievements and the work of students towards empowering the statements outlined in the School’s Diversity and Inclusion statement released by our Board of Trustees Diversity and Inclusion Committee in 2019. From the formation of this committee in 2018, to working with Dr. Vernée Butterfield on multiple occasions, the local private school has made a commitment to ensure that inclusivity and diversity are the centre-piece of the Saltus experience for our community.
Recently, we were delighted to welcome Dr. Vernée Butterfield back to Saltus (virtually) as part of our ongoingeducational sessions. Dr. Vernée Butterfield grew up and worked between New York, Connecticut and Bermuda, which provided a unique perspective of many educational systems. These experiences instilled in her a passion for, and dedication to, excellence in education; ensuring that all children are given an opportunity for global citizenry and responsibility. Dr. Butterfield contends that equity is not a feeling nor an idea, rather it is best actualised through the development and implementation of robust research-based practices. She currently works at the Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven, CT, recruiting teachers and providing professional development for educators regarding Racial Equity. In addition to her role at Booker T. Washington Academy, Dr. Butterfield provides Racial Equity training for schools and medical institutions both nationally and internationally.
Dr. Butterfield has worked consistently with staff and faculty at all levels of the school at Saltus on many occasions. In January, discussions revolving around diversity, inclusion, identity, and race took place to set the tone for the new year and new school term. As part of the work Saltus is committed to, Dr. Butterfield was also our most recent guest speaker, as part of the ‘Saltus Speaks’ series, held virtually, for our Saltus parents. Thanks to a partnership with our Saltus Parent Association, theSaltus Speaks’ series are informational parent events that feature a variety of experts on education. Her topic was focused on ‘Diversity and Inclusion at Saltus’. She stated that “race matters, in our nation, in and around the world and most importantly in our schools. This is where we have the opportunity to shape young students’ minds and the brilliance that they bring to the school every day.” “Conversations about race help us uncover personal and institutional biases that prevent all people from reaching their fullest potential.” Part of Dr. Butterfield’s goal is to ensure that “we are providing the best quality education that goes beyond the notion of mathematics, science, history and social studies.”
The interactive webinar with the Saltus parent community was designed to help them tackle the difficult and uncomfortable conversations with teachers and students and allow them to express and explore their feelings regarding diversity, race, identity and inclusion. It was a powerful webinar and everyone who registered for that event was grateful that Saltus is continuing this journey. Head of School, Deryn Lavell, shared “It was terrific to have Dr. Butterfield engage with our parents at the recent Saltus Speaks event. Seeking to understand and learning to have courageous conversations about diversity and inclusion at Saltus is a major focus for our community. From our Board of Trustees Diversity and Inclusion Committee to our staff, faculty and students, we are committed to becoming a more inclusive community. It is a journey, but we are on the path.”
This year Dr. Butterfield has also been working with the SGY2 Diversity and Inclusion Prefect and her group on their Big Idea. Their goal has been to start a podcast where they discuss a variety of different topics with regards to race, gender, culture, and inclusivity. Their first topic will be about ‘unconscious biases’ where they will tackle where these stem from and how we can go about deconstructing these notions in our daily lives. The Diversity and Inclusion Prefect stated that they “had a privilege of having a Zoom call with Dr. Butterfield where she provided many useful tips on how to have these tough but much needed conversations.” One of the main goals for the group is to create a “safe space where were they can have these conversations, hear the different perspectives and how we can do our part to help Saltus become a more inclusive place, capable of breaking barriers.”
Tying in what we have learned from Dr. Butterfield to the classroom is another key step in ensuring our work is linked to creating a more inclusive curriculum. On 4th February, Bermudian author, Florenz Webbe Maxwell, joined Year 8 English students on a Zoom call for a virtual Q&A about her novel Girlcott.
Maxwell’s debut novel, which recently featured in Oprah’s magazine as one of 16 Books to Read to Celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month, conveys a strong message about hope and the importance of standing up for what is right. Detailing the events of the 1959 Theatre Boycott (which brought an end to segregation in Bermuda), it couldn’t be a more relevant and topical narrative for our students. One Year 8 student describes Girlcott as “an incredibly inspiring story of the history of segregation and discrimination in our ‘paradise’ home”, and acknowledges that through the study of the text, students “have learned so much about gender and equality.”
Students were, therefore, very excited to hear that Mrs. Maxwell (a former Progressive Group member) would be joining them for a live Q&A via Zoom. They wanted to know about the author’s personal experiences of racism and sexism growing up in Bermuda, her role in The Progressive Group, and how she engages in the writing process from the planning stages to publication. Mrs. Maxwell captivated both students and staff with her stories. She also shared some sage advice, telling students to grab their readers “by the throat” with their opening sentences, be passionate and honest in their writing, and think carefully about their ‘why’ when it comes to making change! We feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from such an incredible and inspiring woman.
Next week, Saltus has planned an assembly at the Senior and Middle School level that is student lead and will feature discussions on Black History Month. The Diversity and Inclusion group will be talking about why it is so important and highlighting some important black figures in Bermuda as well as overseas. Some of them include Mary Prince, who was the first black woman to have a book detailed about slavery and her life published in England, Amelia Boynton Robinson who was the first black woman to run for congress in 1964 and many more.