DEI: Increasing Representation in Curriculum and Classroom Libraries

Curricular Initiatives

Classical sparked an initiative to improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our reading curriculum and the work we have done here is paying off. These changes launched back in 2020 and, since then, our curriculum team has been working to increase representation in the texts scholars read. The vision was to introduce texts that serve as mirrors and windows. The concept of windows and mirrors was originated by Rudine Sims Bishop (“Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”, 1990). The premise is that children should both learn about others’ perspectives through literature (windows) and be able to see themselves, or parts of themselves, in stories (mirrors). Furthermore, there is the concept of “sliding glass doors” in which readers become fully immersed in the experiences shared in the text.

New changes are rolling out annually and, as we continue this work, we are pausing to reflect on how these initiatives are landing with teachers and scholars. Those who could best speak to the impact of these changes are the teachers facilitating our curriculum daily and their scholars receiving it. Contributions to this post were gathered through teacher and scholar interviews and submitted written reflections.

4th Grade Perspectives

Ms. Frias, a 4th Grade Team Leader, shared that the current book list for her grade offers a wider range of perspectives and more relatable content for the children. She highlighted Jacqueline Woods’s Harbor Me as a text studied that shares stories with different life perspectives: children coping with varied challenges like being bullied, experiencing racial profiling, having an incarcerated parent or parent detained by immigration. Scholars may or may not experience these challenges themselves, but through this text, they can get an inside view into another’s experiences and circumstances.

One of our 4th graders loved Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis – following the main character’s search for his father, whom he never met, made him think about his grandfather who he, unfortunately, never had the chance to meet. He was able to relate to many of the emotions in the story. Another student shared that their favorite text was Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. The main character loses his best friend, and the student felt a similar sense of loss (though not to the same degree) having moved away from his best friend growing up. As our scholars unpack the literature, they are also recognizing the books as mirrors, ones that they can make personal connections to, or windows, ones that offer a new perspective or outlook they may not have been otherwise privy to.

2nd Grade Perspectives

Ms. Napolitano, a current Instructional Coach and former 2nd Grade Team Leader, shares her reflections having taught our curriculum both before and after these changes were implemented:

Since I began teaching 2nd grade four years ago, there have been monumental changes in the Read Aloud curriculum. These changes have brought in many new books, authors, and topics that scholars have enjoyed connecting to and learning from.

My favorite change has been the new Author’s Study unit. We used to study A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, but now we study Nikki Grimes. Nikki Grimes is a Harlem born author who writes poems and stories about the triumphs and the challenges of growing up as a black girl in NYC. My scholars have been able to make such genuine connections to her books, which have allowed us to have deep conversations in class about themes that resonate within our own lives. Scholars connect with a variety of topics such as moving to new neighborhoods, parents who have separated, dreading getting their hair done, and facing problems at school.

We also introduced new biographies in second grade. Some of our favorites were the stories of Ethyl Payne, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafazi. These biographies talk about influential people of color from the past and present. This unit is amazing as it allows scholars to discover people they have never read about and lets them visualize what it will look like for them to be successful someday. This unit promotes discussion about cultural backgrounds, growing up with challenges of racism, and overcoming obstacles to achieve great things. Scholars connect with themes of determination and hard work, among others.

Another exciting update is in our independent libraries. We’ve stocked our libraries with books in which scholars can see themselves and explore their own identities. Some favorites in our library are The Story of Simone Biles, Ellray Jakes: The Recess King, and The Arabic Quilt.

Our second graders reflect on the personal connections they’ve made to texts they’ve read in class, sharing how literature can serve as “mirrors” for our scholars!

In Conclusion

We strive to continuously improve for the benefit of the children we serve. Realizing a need for change in the literature we provide was one of the many ways Classical has embraced innovation. It is so refreshing to see our scholars more engaged in reading, especially now that they are seeing more of themselves reflected in the pages of books and as they are learning new perspectives. We will continue to do this work as we recognize the benefits for our educators and, most significantly, those we serve to educate.



This post was contributed by Ms. Frias, 4th Grade Team Leader, Ms. Napolitano, Instructional Coach, and Ms. Emanuele, Special Projects Manager. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.


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