Strategic Plan Update: Social Justice and Anti-Bias Work at SGS

This month, we update the community on the progress of the following initiative: Codify our anti-bias and anti-racist curriculum and programming with a clear grade-by-grade (5-8) scope and sequence so that it is explicit and intentional across all areas of the school. Document the school’s approach to identity development and demonstrate how evidence-based brain, adolescent development, and social psychology research inform the SGS program and support our students’ exploration of the many aspects that make up who they are and how they share themselves with the community. This initiative falls under the first goal of our strategic plan: Students engaged in maturing programs with compelling impact.

The work on this initiative is being led by Assistant Head of School Phelana Pang and faculty member Libby Rowan. Since its founding, SGS has incorporated social justice and anti-bias (SJAB) teachings into its curriculum. This work serves as the foundation and content that Phelana, Libby, and the SGS faculty were charged with codifying this year. While social justice teachings are woven into many classes’ curriculums, this project focuses on the times SJAB is taught explicitly in the students’ advisory classes each week.

The SJAB curriculum focuses on four key pillars that have historically guided this work at SGS: Identity, Perspectives/Voice, Power/Action, and Justice/Institutional change. The goal is to have the curriculum intentionally spiral, so that these themes are revisited and expanded upon the further SGS students progress. In October, the faculty met as a whole to decide what the benchmark skills and course markers would be for the first term in each grade. This ranged from beginning to “Identify multiple perspectives in a given environment (5th Grade),” to “Examine a societal topic and identify the individual, interpersonal, and institutional impacts (8th Grade).” Over the course of the first term, the faculty continued to meet and iterate on these benchmark skills before coming to a consensus around the wording for each skill. This process repeated itself for the winter term, and will happen again for the spring term as well. With each iteration, “it’s become easier and more efficient to do this process,” said Libby. “It’s been really nice to see what the flow looks like, not only across terms, but across grades at SGS.”

As the benchmark skills become finalized, the faculty are also documenting the lessons and activities they are doing in each advisory class to meet these skills. In addition, they have developed an assessment tracker that defines what it looks like to be consistently proficient in each benchmark skill. For example, one benchmark skill in 7th grade is: “Students will be able to identify how certain voices are marginalized and celebrate their achievements and impacts.” As part of meeting this skill, each 7th grade student presents at a community meeting about a person that broke barriers in their field or community. A task rubric for the presentation assesses how the student “gave context for how the subject is impactful,” among other metrics.
As the work for this initiative goes into its second year, Libby and Phelana hope to review what has been accomplished this year and make sure the curriculum is spiraling and scaffolding appropriately. They also want to do more research and group reflection next year to further refine the curriculum. One particular challenge that has arisen is defining the 8th grade curriculum and addressing gaps as 8th grade reacts to the changes in curriculum in the grades below it. Now, the 7th grade team can definitively share with the 8th grade team what they taught students to give the 8th grade team a sense of what students know and don’t know at the start of the year. Finally, Libby and Phelana also hope that the themes and goals of the curriculum can be published in external publications for prospective families, other independent schools, and the community at-large. “We want to be able to clearly show that by 8th grade, these are the social justice and anti-bias takeaways that students will leave with,” said Libby.

For Libby and Phelana, managing the process has been more than rewarding. “It’s completely mission driven, and it really reflects who we are,” remarked Libby. “SGS has always done this work, but we’re working together to document what we do and make it more of a logical progression. It’s really cool work and we’re excited to share it with the larger community in the future.”

Inset: 5th Grade students respond to a prompt about restorative justice during their SJAB class.
Located in the Central District, Seattle Girls' School is an independent school for girls and gender nonconforming students in grades 5-8. Our mission is to inspire and develop courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change.