Making diversity a priority
Betty Chen Rojas
December 28, 2016

Our country is becoming increasingly diverse, and our students will need to collaborate during college and their careers with peers from different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. To mirror the diversity students will experience in the real world, Summit Public Schools in California is intentionally creating economically and ethnically diverse student communities. 

Given the research that shows the benefit of having diverse student communities, I believe that more and more schools will value making it both a priority and a reality.

Diversity best practices

There are a variety of practices that schools can employ to develop a diverse student body. A 2012 report from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and The Century Foundation outlined five intentional practices that have enabled charter schools to successfully integrate students of varying racial and economic backgrounds. These include:

  • locating the school in an area with a diverse population
  • employing a targeted student recruitment strategy that focuses on underrepresented populations
  • supporting a school culture that embraces and respects diversity
  • focusing on academic quality with a thoughtful education model that attracts families
  • using weighted lotteries that gives an advantage to diverse students

At Summit, we focus on the first four strategies to foster a positive, inclusive and diverse community across each of our 10 schools.

Diversity as school mission

At Summit Public Schools, diversity is integral to our mission: “to prepare a diverse student population for success in a four-year college or university, and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society.” We believe that, regardless of race, neighborhood, or prior academic experience, all of our students are capable of high levels of academic and social achievement.

Strategies in action

As the director of family engagement, I support student recruitment, as well as engagement of our current parents to support both our students and school community. When recruiting prospective families and students, we employ targeted communications and messaging that address the varying attitudes, values and languages of the communities that we are located in and the communities that we serve. Based on what resonates, we reach new families through direct marketing, advertising, canvassing, community partnerships, community events, and/or word-of-mouth referrals.

We also closely monitor diversity in the application and enrollment process to ensure that we are meeting our goals. We use an online platform to regularly track year-over-year applicant demographic data and offer-to-registration conversion rates by segment, as well as the effectiveness of marketing tactics during the recruitment process. For example, we monitor the applications coming in from a certain community after a mailing in that area to see if that tactic was successful. And, if the data indicates that certain marketing initiatives aren’t working there, we adjust accordingly for that particular community.

In addition to recruiting for a diverse student body, we place a huge emphasis on supporting our students in and out of the classroom, making sure they feel respected, supported, and included. One way we do this is by pairing each student with a faculty mentor who meets with each individual mentee weekly. Students are also a part of a community group with their mentor and all of his or her mentees. Mentors meet with their community group daily to provide time for students to safely express their thoughts and feelings, as well as build meaningful faculty-to-student and peer-to-peer relationships through a variety of activities. To help strengthen community relationships, we also host off-campus activities, such as an annual overnight camping trip with all of our faculty, students, and many parents.

We additionally integrate diversity, equity and inclusion – and teach our students about it – through the curriculum we offer. All students take a ‘Habits, Culture, and Community’ class during which they learn about themselves, their classmates, and different communities and cultures, so that they can better empathize with and respect each other’s differences.

These are just a few examples of the ways we have been able to successfully promote, cultivate and support diversity in our schools. By being intentional in our efforts, we find that we are able to create a rich educational school environment that mirrors our complex world, and deepens both academic and social learning.

Betty Chen Rojas is the director of Family Engagement at Summit Public Schools in California.

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