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Topic Tuesday: Diversity in Schools

Hello, Diversity enthusiasts! My name is Mikayla, and I just started a year-long internship with the Atlassian Community team. I'm a senior in high school and in the past four years, I have noticed that kids in my class tend to hang out with people who look more like them. I think that this is a missed opportunity for people to get to know more about the backgrounds of their peers if they don't socialize together. 

So today we have three Topic Tuesday questions to choose from:

1. What do you think schools can do to encourage a diverse class of students to interact with one another.

2. If you have a child in school, share your experience with diversity or lack thereof in their classroom.

3. What was your own experience growing up in a (non)diverse school system? 


Mary Ramirez Community Leader Sep 18, 2018

Hi @Mikayla Roberts,

I have a young child and I made sure to have her attend a school district that is diverse. I found this to be very important because I know what it's like to be the only one of your kind. I hope that by her seeing others that look like her she focuses more on her subjects rather than looking for her tribe.

I think schools that may have classes like computer science where only one race or gender make the majority - can take the initiative to let the other students know that they're also welcomed. Often times students are intimidated and feel like they cannot perform. Providing a demo or showing them a video of others striving in CS may be encouraging. 

@Mary Ramirez Totally agree with you, thanks for sharing!

Morning Mikayla!

I think one of the best things that schools can do to create inclusion and diversity is to use the 'house' system like they do in England (and many other countries).

Studies for years have pointed to the viability of using the house system to promote a sense of camaraderie and belonging. As kids get older they are able to develop natural leadership skills as well as fostering an 'ownership' for the well-being of younger kids. 

I never knew this was a thing until Harry Potter swept through the US, and now I'm seeing more and more that schools in the states that are adopting this in elementary, middle, and high schools. I definitely feel like if there had been a program like this when I went to school, I may have spent less time feeling like an isolated book nerd.

As for my nine-year-old, he is in a great school. I have always been very grateful that we live in a state (California) that is so ethnically and culturally diverse. There is a constant stream of community and school events dedicated to celebrating different cultures and holidays.

I agree with @Mary Ramirez that once you start getting into S.T.E.A.M. - schools may not do enough to encourage diversity. I use this example: When you were a kid, and someone asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you could only answer with the jobs you knew about. It's great if kids want to be firefighters, doctors, and ballerinas. If we do a better job at showing kids how BIG the world is and all the different paths they could take, it would give them more opportunity to explore work that they could love.

Monique vdB Community Manager Sep 18, 2018

@Meg Holbrook this reminded me of The A to Z Guide to Jobs for Girls, which includes jobs like Tattoo Artist, Astronaut, and Jackhammer Operator.  It's so great!

@Monique vdB - this is the best thing I've seen all day!! 

@Meg Holbrook wow! I never knew about the 'house' system, I definitely learned something new today, thanks for sharing 

Ellie Day Atlassian Team Sep 18, 2018

My high school was fairly diverse compared to many schools (as in there was a fairly even distribution of both racial and socio-economic backgrounds, so I can't comment on other schools.

I think what helps is for the to be inclusive school sponsored groups (such as a choir, or drama club) that encourage anyone who is interested to join and where membership is not decided from your GPA or if you take advanced classes. There were often groups/clubs where you had to have a certain GPA or take a certain number of advanced classes that were exclusionary. As a student who was on the edge of being an "advanced" and "regular" student (as determined by the classes I was enrolled in) I was often part of both groups at different times. Having groups where students of all "academic merit" could exist together was very important for me and others.

@Ellie Day I agree, clubs like a choir or a drama club could definitely get kids to interact and socialize with each other, and should be sponsored at schools. Thanks for sharing!

Good Day @Mikayla Roberts.

Going to choose 2 and 3 of the Topic Tuesday questions to answer.

2. With two children in different high schools, their classroom experiences with diversity have been virtually boundless.  To be honest it has been challenging at times as a parent.  My children have been exposed to so much more of what the world can be.  They have stretched the comfort zone of their parents - which is part (if not the root) of any solution to the missed opportunity you've highlighted.

3. My own experience growing up was in a non-diverse school system (NYC public schools).  However, it was very reflective of the world or at the very least my city, state and county (imho).  Had to work (and still do) very hard to change the narrative within myself in order to be my best self.  Even still, there are some biases my own actions can not change.

Welcome to the community and thanks for contributing to the discussion.

@BenJamIn wow! thanks for being honest and sharing your own personal experiences with us. 

Thomas Schlegel Community Leader Sep 19, 2018

When I was in school, thirty years ago, in a German village, no one talked about diversity in any way. We built our own groups and friendships, depending mostly on the music, we liked. 

In these times, there were hardly no other cultures, inclusion or diversity topics in that small town. Children's life was easy, at least on the surface. If you had any problems, you didn't talk about them. Being gay was no topic, neither in school nor anywhere else. I couldn't talk to anyone, always pretending (and wanting) to be "normal". For me, it took years after school to come out, accept and love myself the way I am. 

But these times are long gone, at least in Germany. I'm sure, coming out is still a big problem for kids, but it is easier. It's no taboo anymore, there are a lot of role models today, some famous, some within friends and family. My niece told me, that there are two openly gay boys in her grade and everyone is fine with them. 30 years ago, this would have been totally impossible. 

I think, schools and teachers should give you the feeling, that you are fine, the way you are. There should be no athmosphere of fear. Kids have to become more familiar with the "unknown", other cultures, way of life, so that they lose their fear. The more they look closely at diversity topics, the more they will be accepted. But I know, this is easier said than done... 

Btw, it is exactly the same topic in every company, not just in schools...

@Thomas Schlegel - I think you are very brave for embracing who you are in spite of the people who may not have accepted you. I am so confident that every generation that comes after us will continue to get better and better. That's the best we can hope for, right? 


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