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 1476609 38186An Expert on Inclusivity

This past August, Dr. Seria Chatters joined the State College Area School District in order to oversee the implementation of the district’s new School Climate/ Inclusive Excellence Policy. This policy promises to support and promote teaching and learning environments in which all students can succeed, both academically and socially; have a strong and meaningful voice; and are prepared for democratic life and successful transition into the 21st century workplace.

 

As director of diversity and inclusivity, Chatters aims to ensure that all schools within the district are living out this commitment to inclusivity and to create an environment in which students, faculty and staff—from all backgrounds and cultures—feel included, celebrated and empowered.

Chatters, who has years of hands-on experience, was a natural fit for the job. Before joining SCASD, she was a clinical associate teaching professor at Penn State in the Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education Department. She also served as acting coordinator for Clinical Mental Health Counseling in Schools and Communities at the university.

“My previous role as an assistant professor and coordinator of the clinical mental health program, my current roles as a licensed professional counselor and certified professional school counselor, over a decade of experience working in the field of provision of services regarding diversity and inclusion consulting and working with school districts, organizations and companies have provided me with a solid foundation to set out on this new journey with the district,” she says.

Chatters has been on the job just over three months and already has big plans and ambitions to foster diversity and inclusion.

“I aim to collaborate with students, faculty, staff, parents, administrators and members of the Penn State and Centre County community to work toward equitable outcomes for all students so that all may excel,” she says.

Chatters hopes to bolster and empower students by encouraging their voices and ability to make choices. She is also determined to help close the district’s opportunity gap.  

Putting The Plan In Motion
Several new programs and initiatives are already in the works, including:

The Social Justice Summer Institute
This program is designed to teach 10th-12th grade students how to advocate for their peers. “We would like this to be a one week institute in which students learn how to be a social justice advocate for their peers,” Chatters explains. “Students will learn how to recognize and respond to bias, facilitate difficult conversations in small groups around sensitive topics, educate their peers on a topic of choice and learn how to take action on a cause of their choice.”

Center for Inclusive Excellence and Global Leadership
“We are working on the development of a Center for Inclusive Excellence and Global Leadership at State High,” says Chatters, noting the title is still a work in progress. “We aim for this center to be a multicultural hub for our district where the community and district can collaborate to provide educational opportunities through programming, art, crucial conversations and events.” 

Inclusion Councils for Each School
“We are working on forming Inclusion councils at each school,” explains Chatters. “These councils could potentially include the principal, school counselor, two teachers/staff…identified as doing work in the field of diversity and inclusivity, two students and a Parent Teacher Organization representative. This council will focus on school climate efforts centered on diversity and inclusion. Team members will likely react and respond to reported acts of bias, support diversity initiatives and training at the school level, assist in student related issues centered around diversity and inclusion and have one representative who will attend the quarterly district wide inclusion council.” 

Mental Health Support Services
“We have partnered with Penn State’s CEDAR Clinic and currently have four clinical mental health students providing individual, group and family counseling services at the middle schools, high school and two of the elementary schools,” Chatters says, “This initiative is aimed at supporting the district’s integrated mental health team.”

Five Year Equity and Inclusivity Plan

In addition to these programs, the district is considering long-term strategies for fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace and learning environment. They are beginning work on a five-year equity and inclusivity strategy.

The Importance of Diversity

SCASD values the unique contributions each student and teacher brings to the classroom and wants all students to have equal opportunities to learn and thrive. Chatters plays a central role in spreading this message and ensuring that learning environments are positive for, and inclusive of, all individuals.

“When we discuss and talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion, we are talking about identity,” she says. “Identity is something that is formed over time [and] that we aim to help our children develop as they move through K-12 education. It is important for schools to foster healthy and positive identity development in students. Therefore the conversation regarding diversity must start early in order for children from all cultural backgrounds to feel included, celebrated and empowered.” 

Chatters stresses that it is important to talk about, teach and provide opportunities to explore various dimensions of diversity. Another important piece of the puzzle, she says, is working towards your own cultural competence.

“As students are taught to better understand themselves and others as multicultural beings, faculty, administrators and staff must work toward becoming culturally competent,” Chatters explains. “Cultural competence training includes training all employees to start to recognize their biases, provide and foster culturally responsive classrooms and pedagogy, learn more about systemic oppression and work toward becoming social justice advocates for students and colleagues. Moving toward educational equity will require a whole district approach and I am excited to be a part of this journey.”

SCASD is excited to have Chatters leading these efforts. Teachers, students and parents welcome her and look forward to participating in the ongoing efforts to improve the district and meet the goals of the School Climate/Inclusive Excellence Policy.