George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Voice

Planning a Schoolwide Event to Foster an Inclusive Environment

Middle and high school students and staff interested in equity and inclusion can plan a set of sessions to share information about topics that matter to them.

July 20, 2023
SeventyFour / iStock

Our school equity team aspired to organize an event designed to create a more just and inclusive school environment—one that would give students and staff opportunities to expand their skills and learn more about equitable practices, inspiring them to think and act with greater kindness and awareness. It was our hope that this event would support students to socialize in a way that fostered empathy, forged relationships, and built community. To this end, our school had its first annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Day in January of this year.

The initial plan

Our team felt that it was important to create a rationale and objectives for the day, which we aligned with the Social Justice Standards from Learning for Justice. We also decided that the most equitable experience would be a workshop-style format in which students could sign up in advance for a session based on their interests, readiness, and most pressing needs. Teachers, who served as proctors and facilitators, similarly had choices as to what session they attended.

Administrative support was key to running the program to communicate effectively with stakeholders, change the school schedule for the day, ensure that students were accounted for, and overall abide by district policies and procedures. 

Next, we formed a student planning committee that was integral in soliciting and approving potential speakers from the school and greater community, as well as partnering with them to ensure that each session was student-centered and  interactive. Then, at no cost, we designed a program catalog  using Canva and had students select their session using Eventbrite, and their choices were then added to their schedule in our student information system. 

Students also created a series of video commercials to play during our morning video announcements to publicize the event and important deadlines, generate interest, and communicate the mission of the DEI Day. Members of our equity team handled a variety of tasks, including preparing for the day; presenting, facilitating, and overseeing sessions; and managing other administrative responsibilities. Our student committee and staff worked diligently to create folders for speakers that included their ID badge, a map of the session locations, session norms, an attendance list, and a handwritten thank-you card.

DEI Day 

We implemented a special schedule to create a one-hour block of time at the end of the day for students and teachers to attend their selected sessions. To enhance the positive and celebratory mood, our team organized a series of events throughout the school day. During the lunch periods, students enjoyed performances featuring our school’s a cappella groups, jazz band, and other ensembles. They also had an opportunity to contribute to a DEI banner that read, “YOU MATTER,” and pose for pictures in a student-run photo booth holding up props created in Canva with slogans such as “Be a Good Human,” “#Upstander,” “Ally,”  and “We Belong.”

For the afternoon sessions, student ambassadors wearing a T-shirt with a student-designed logo greeted community members, staff, and student presenters and escorted them to a meet-and-greet reception to enjoy refreshments and pick up their folder, and then guided them to their session location. Some of the sessions led by students included “Menstrual Equity and Deconstructing Period Stigma,” “Demystifying Disability Culture,” and “LGBTQIA+: You Matter Too.”  

Our faculty offered sessions titled “Promoting Change Through Service,” “Exploring the Difference Between Cultural Appropriation and Appreciation,” and “Hip-Hop and Healthy Masculinity.” Our local community members ran sessions such as “Introduction to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression,” “A Mindful Approach to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder,” and “Bollywood Dancing.” We used a survey to collect feedback at the end of the sessions to gather data to both improve future sessions and create action steps toward meaningful change.  

Next steps

Student feedback about DEI Day was overwhelmingly positive, with specific suggestions on how to improve our school’s efforts to build empathy, enhance inclusivity, and foster belonging. We were heartened to hear from many of our students that they were interested in expanding future DEI Days, perhaps adding in a designated time for students to process, debrief, and offer ideas for next steps. Our students also reported that they appreciated our school’s commitment to heritage month celebrations, diversifying curriculum and resources, and increasing inclusivity through prioritizing equity and access for all students. 

One of the areas that many students identified for improving DEI Day was ensuring that every session prioritized student voice and engagement. We do recognize that although there is often much information we seek to offer students, if achieving equity is the priority, there’s much to be learned from listening to students.

Although one day is certainly not sufficient to create enduring change, letting our students’ voices inform and guide our school’s equity initiatives is a good place to begin. Our hope is to ease the way for other educators to re-create a similar experience at their school in their work toward increased inclusivity, equity, and justice for all. To use one student’s words, “We need to create time to have these difficult conversations in a welcoming space.”

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  • Student Voice
  • Diversity
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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