A Conversation About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion- Interview with Lynn Schuster


As a school, Parker is deeply committed to fostering an educational environment that celebrates diversity, honors differences, and works tirelessly to ensure that all voices are heard, represented, and included in our classrooms. This work is ongoing and ever-growing as we continuously learn more and hone our practices with our students. Our learning will never be done.
This week, in observance of the beginning of Black History Month, we sat down with Lynn Schuster, Parker’s Director of Academics and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to talk about our school’s vision, commitment, and practices surrounding DEI. Please read on to hear more from Lynn, in her own words…
This year saw the creation of your new position at Parker, as a Director of Academics AND Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Why do you think the creation of a DEI position is important for Parker?
“Social justice has been in the fabric of Parker’s culture since it was established. By carving out this dedicated position on our staff, we are showing that it is important to our school to have a persistent focus and touchstone on these matters.
In my role, I work with multiple layers and constituencies. I feel honored to be a resource for our teachers. Our partnership encourages them and me to grow, experiment, and reflect on the practice of educating future change makers. I also work with our students, both in elevating their voices and making sure that every student at Parker feels reflected and seen in our curriculum. My work with families is similar, and includes listening to and learning from our diverse families in a way that puts those lessons into practice in real time to yield tangible results. I also work with various community members and organizations both in coordinating scholarships and creating meaningful learning and service opportunities for our students.”
What do you envision for your role as Director of DEI at Parker?
“I’ve always been drawn to big picture thinking and systemic change. I am driven by an interest in fairness, civil rights, and justice. As a teacher at Parker, I centered our long-term classroom studies, discussions, and social-emotional work on these ideas. In recent years, as current civic life turned down its current course, I dug into a renewed focus on citizenship and the responsibilities inherent in civic engagement. As a citizen myself, I found that the most meaningful work I could do was to engage my students in their rights and roles in society.
In the summer of 2018, I spent a week being trained at the Institute for Teaching Diversity and Social Justice. Following that, I returned to Parker with a renewed focus on the importance of this work in our school. The DEI work ahead for administrators, teachers, and our board members will require forethought, review, training, rethinking. The work is both personal and professional. In order to fully and effectively engage, we need to question the status quo and our places in it. We need to reflect on our stories and experiences in society and then look at our educational program with new eyes. DEI is not a five-month or one-year endeavor.
My vision for my role is that, along with our faculty and administrators, we will be engaged in professional development to build on our program to ensure a sense of belonging exists for our students, families, and professional community. A key aspect of my position is also to work closely with Jennifer Gresens and Matt Thornton in building connections with community leaders and to diversify our student body and faculty. I also look forward to working with faculty and alongside the Board of Trustees to establish a formal statement of support for and mission to address diversity, equity and inclusion.”
What does DEI work look like in the classrooms at Parker this year?
Currently, I am working with our teachers to refine existing grade level projects to include a DEI lens and community engagement opportunities for our students. This is in keeping with our Strategic Plan goal to build on and strengthen our program.
At the classroom level, students of all grades are working on a school-wide drive for Afghan families resettling in our area. At the PreK and Kindergarten level, these conversations centered on what families need to feel safe and comfortable, and what we can do to help. Our middle schoolers, meanwhile, did a deep dive into learning about the refugee experience, including a moving Zoom interview with Omar Alrifai, a first generation Syrian who has been actively involved in the organization: New York for Syrian Refugees. School-wide, our students are in the midst of an on-going drive to raise infant and personal hygiene items for these new families.
More broadly, students of all ages are also engaging in literature experiences with diverse authors and characters of color. Some are currently studying historical figures of color and their contributions to American history and life. In all classrooms, we are having age-appropriate discussions about identity, family, traditions and culture, with an emphasis on exploring each student’s unique traits, beliefs, and ideals to promote inclusion and kindness.
What are some of the initiatives you have been working on this year?
“One initiative that I jumped into immediately back in July was growing our Berube Scholars program. These scholarships are generously funded by an anonymous donor, and they share and support Parker’s commitment to diversifying our student body. As a teacher at Parker for all these years, I’ve seen our diversity shrink and grow. The Berube Scholars program offers us a great challenge and stability to live our DEI values.
In addition to our scholarship work, I have been working closely with teachers (as mentioned previously) to expand the DEI lens in their work. I have also been learning from our teachers and students interested in a student-led initiative to launch a GSA. My goal is for the students, our teacher advisors, and me to be mentored so that the alliance becomes a rich part of the middle school experience here at Parker. Year-round, I am encouraging and bringing DEI professional development to our teachers. I also plan to work with our Board to craft a DEI mission statement, and I am working with the Board’s community engagement committee to connect our students to the world outside of Parker for service opportunities and community assistance projects.
Why is DEI work important for Parker?
Parker is grounded in a progressive philosophy. Progressivists see education as a means to develop citizens in a democratic society, honoring their right to participate in community decisions and leadership. Woven into the fabric of Parker’s particular progressive philosophy has always been a concern for and emphasis on social justice. Children at Parker are encouraged to question history and current conditions, to dream up solutions to problems based on facts and their passions, and to experience what it means to take action on matters that mean something to them.
Our students must be prepared to fully participate in a diverse world. They must understand that their lived experience and perspective is not the only story out there. They must be comfortable talking about our complicated history and the need for change, and then (and most crucially) they must be able to act upon these discussions.
As we head into February, can you share from a DEI perspective why it is important for Parker students to study Black History Month?
“Black History Month is a single month in a school year. Here at Parker, we strive to ensure that the voices and histories of Black people hold equal weight and are not just plugged in as a special event once a year. However, pausing to honor Black history is a tradition that can center the everyday people, leaders and activists who have contributed to our history.
I read an article once that shared a perspective that has stuck with me: We need to teach through Black history, not about Black history. Behind this is an argument that historical events are shaped by multiple peoples with diverse backgrounds, and that their stories and perspectives should have equal weight. Black history should not be held at a distance, as a special feature, but should be fully incorporated into our learning and understanding of the human story.
Black history must include a focus on activism, victories and liberation, gigantic cultural contributions, and joy. Parker students of color should have their history represented in our curriculum, and a true education for all students must include the diverse stories that have shaped our world.”