School hosts sixth Pollyanna


Printed with permission of Katie Blue

A CAPTIVATING CONFERENCE: Student representives speak on a panel at the Pollyanna Conference in Saperstein Theatre at the lower school campus Oct 22. This year, the meeting’s theme was “Teamwork is the Heartbeat: Building Communities of Inclusion Through Collaboration.”

Jade Harris and Jayan Kandavel

The school hosted 21 schools and approximately 350 student representatives for its sixth annual Pollyanna Conference on Oct. 22.  The conference aims to help schools improve their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies, and this year’s theme was “Teamwork is the Heartbeat: Building Communities of Inclusion Through Collaboration.”

Pollyanna Inc., which partners with the school to hold the conference, is a national nonprofit that works to help educational institutions achieve their DEI goals, according to its website. The Pollyanna conference model aims to deliver an interactive program, providing leaders with the training needed to understand how diversity can impact their communities.

Head of DEI  Janine Jones said the conference’s theme of teamwork was relevant to all attendees.

“The goal this year was to discover ways that we can work together instead of separately,” Jones said. “In addition, we were particularly interested in this topic given that the word ‘unite’ is in the Harvard-Westlake mission statement. We truly believe that we will go farther if we go together.”

Jones said this year’s conference was crucial in light of hateful acts on campus, including the discovery of antisemitic carvings on a school desk.

“[The conference] is especially important because hate has no place in the world, in schools, or at Harvard-Westlake specifically,” Jones said. “When we gather with a shared commitment to building diverse and inclusive communities, we are taking a few steps forward to eliminate hate from our respective communities and the world at large.”

This year, the keynote speaker was Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Nzinga Shaw, who has worked at organizations including the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks and Starbucks. Shaw shared case studies of her work in the National Basketball Association and National Football League to show how working collaboratively leads to success.

Middle School Dean, Student Leadership Teacher and DEI Coordinator John Carroll said Shaw’s presentation emphasized that fostering an inclusive environment takes time.

“I was reminded by our magnificent keynote speaker Nzinga Shaw that pacing is important when you are talking about change of any kind,” Carroll said.“[DEI] work often calls for change, whether [in] thinking, behavior or policy. For those engaged in this work, it therefore means planning for how you develop buy-in for changes that may need to happen and allow time for people to get on board.”

Carroll said he and Jones have created spaces for different affinity groups at the school to collaborate in order to foster more inclusivity.

“One of the things that Mrs. Jones and I talk about when we think about plans for DEI at HW is to continue to design opportunities where people can find connection across affinity spaces in the name of unity and understanding,” Carroll said. “In times where many ethnic and identity groups are feeling attacked, finding ways to ally with and support one another becomes that much more imperative.”