It’s been an exciting week in the office of Diversity and Inclusion. The week started off with a delightful celebration for International Peace Day where students shared their gifts of singing, dancing, and poetry. The event was followed by the affinity group kickoff for the year.
The office of Diversity and Inclusion is hard at work growing the affinity program.
“Affinity, I know, is one of the favorite things that students do at Overlake. It’s a time to feel seen, valued, and heard,” says Shea Fleming, Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion. “This year we’re focusing on the transformational power of love and joy to heal and shift a community.” Joy was certainly evident during the conclusion of the Peace Day celebration which saw the entire fifth grade class joyfully leading a dance to the song Jerusalema in the Owls’ Nest while other students blew bubbles to celebrate.
In the past couple of years, the variety of affinity options have grown, but this year the program is expanding its reach by creating separate affinity programs in each group for Middle and Upper School which nearly doubles the number of groups for students. Fleming is excited to bring the youngest owls into the program who were previously not involved in affinity groups.
As the department grew, Fleming described that they wanted to take some time to teach the fifth and sixth grade students some broader concepts and skills about DEI work. “Last year was really about building their took kit of understanding about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, for them to join the program this year,” Fleming says. Developmentally speaking, the department always hoped to have groups for each division, and now with the growth of the program and the new daily schedule creating time, that became a reality.
With a group for each division comes the need for more affinity group leaders. Thirty-five adults have stepped up to help lead a group, widening the reach of the affinity program. The office of Diversity and Inclusion will also be leading some of the adult collaboration times throughout the year helping faculty and staff better grow their tool kit for cultural competency which aligns with Overlake’s newly adopted Strategic Plan.
“We believe that this work is central to our school. It’s in every aspect of the community,” Fleming says.
To help better listen to what students are interested in and find ways to connect, the student ASB has elected the first ever ASB DEJI Coordinator. An idea that came out of the Student Diversity Leadership retreat that Fleming took a small group of students to in the spring. Annie C. (’23) will pioneer the position this year and work directly with Fleming and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to plan events and programs to better engage students. “She’s our connection between the students and our department. Her ear is to the ground in a way that ours is not,” Fleming says.
Students finished out this week by attending a workshop hosted by the Latino/a Affinity group in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month which featured guest, Monica Rojas-Stewart, founder of Movimiento Afrolatino Seattle. Students learned about Afro-Peruvian culture and learned a call and response drum pattern played on the cajon.