Diversity=Team @ Horace Mann

IMG_2872_opt-1Pat Zuroski and Markell Parker head up the Office of Diversity at Horace Mann, but they are not alone in making the community equitable, vibrant, inclusive, empathetic, and diverse. They have the support of and receive feedback from administrators, faculty, and most importantly, parents. As a parent at HM you have the opportunity to find affinity in any number of resource committees:
Black Parents Union.Chinese Family Network. Hispanic/Latino Family Network. Korean Parents League. South Asian Families Group. Center for Community Values and Action. Parent Diversity Committee

The Parent Diversity Committee’s Co-Chair Elizabeth Azerard shares with the RIISE network a profound experience that turned into best practices. Elizabeth, thank you for the post and RIISE invitation to upcoming panel discussion with Dr. Ernest Morrell at HM.


Everyone has a Role to Play in Diversity

By Elizabeth Perez Azerad

Co-Parent Liaison to the Office of Diversity

While Horace Mann has a long-standing tradition of well-established affinity groups that serve the needs of their constituent families, underserved populations exist such as: international families, same-sex parent households, biracial families and families with adopted children, to name a few. When Grace Peak and I began our work as Diversity Parent Liaisons in 2010, we hoped to compliment the work of our existing affinity groups by increasing the opportunity for parents from seemingly unrelated backgrounds to meet and form relationships. After attending the 2011 from Diversity to Community Dalton School Conference we pondered what it would take and mean to build a stronger sense of community. We formulated an idea to expand on the traditional notion of diversity, reaching beyond color or socio-economics to make our conversations relevant to a broader audience. Our message became the notion that everyone has a role to play in diversity. The means by which we have sought to implement this is through our format of a ‘Parent Chat’.


After several brainstorming session with the HM Office of Diversity, Director of Diversity Initiatives Patricia Zuroski and Diversity Associate Markell Parker, Grace and I developed the Parent Chat as an intimate environment where parents could safely discuss topics relevant to their needs. Part of every discussion involves asking participants to ponder and share with the group, aspects of their personal narratives that lead them to make the decisions that guide their parenting. Some of the forces that guide these decisions are one’s culture, religion, educational journey and/or overall life experiences.


Another guiding principle of the Parent Chat is that all the participants have an equal footing in the conversation. We come to the conversation as parents, not experts. In fact, we ask people to ‘check their titles at the door’ so that we can maintain a feeling of safety, exploration, and openness to express personal views. To this end, prior to each Chat, we review a list of Community Norms to create safe spaces for discussion, written primarily by Horace Mann Upper Division students. Examples of these norms are: Be authentic, Lean into Discomfort, Right to Pass, and Speak from an “I” perspective.


A typical Parent Chat opens with a short mental exercise – a pointed question that asks each participant to deeply ponder one aspect of our Chat topic. Often, this is joined with a ‘pair-share’ where two unfamiliar participants explore and share together. This short exercise builds relationships and prepares our participants to enter the open discussion where we delve into the topic more deeply, attempting to connect seemingly unrelated people and ideas. This is often the most exciting and rewarding part of the Chat when feelings of isolation give way to inclusion and understanding as we realize our commonalities. Since Horace Mann covers four Divisions, the Parent Chat offers parents from various stages along the path of their children’s educational journey, the opportunity to hear perspectives they wouldn’t normally have exposure to if they attended single Division events.


In 2012, Grace and I formed a Diversity Committee that today numbers over 120. We also brought on a third liaison, Tracei Akalilar whose organizational expertise has enabled us to host 7 events this year namely 3 Chats, 3 Book Chats and a Year Closer. In addition, Tracei regularly publishes a Diversity Newsletter.


Below are the titles of the 8 Parent Chat events that we have hosted to date

• Social and Academic Expectations: the pros and cons of coming from our varied homes (traditional, non-traditional and everything in between)

• The Pressure of Being a Horace Mann Boy or Girl (How our backgrounds help or hurt us)

• Mixed, Bi and Multi: Shaken not Stirred

• Parent Book Chat on Half + Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial + Bicultural edited by Claudine C. O’Hearn

• Generational Definitions of Success: These are not your parents’ genes

• Parent Book Chat on “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” by Paul Tough

• Navigating Childhood in an Environment of Affluence

Parent Book Chat on “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids” by Madeline Levine


As we complete this academic year, my co Liaisons and I recognize that there is still much work to be done. Questions that still remain to be answered include: have we been too successful if only 1/3 -1/2 of our attendees are parents of color? How do we reach a complementary balance between the Affinity Groups and our newly formed Diversity Committee? And of course, there are so many diversity topics that we look forward to exploring. We recognize that this all remains a work in progress.


In closing I would like to thank Patricia Zuroski and Markell Parker from the HM Office of Diversity for their unwavering support of our efforts and countless hours spent helping us brainstorm a sensitive and effective way to achieve our goals. We are truly thankful to Dr. Tom Kelly, HM Head of School, for his support of our new initiative.


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One Comment

  1. Elizabath Perez Azerad
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for giving us the opportunity to share our work.

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