Q&A WITH JENNY KRAVITZ: Striving to Be a ‘Compassionate and Supportive’ Mentor

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Jenny Kravitz is the 6-12 Science Curriculum Coordinator and has been the co-facilitator of the Diversity and Inclusion Team for Westford Public Schools for several years. As WestfordCAT launches its series this week on LGBTQ+ topics we turn to her for guidance and information. Below are her responses to our questions:

*Tell us something about your childhood and how it connects to the Jenny Kravitz of today

I am a child of an interracial marriage. Much of my life has been an ever-evolving journey of exploring that what means. How do I view myself?  How do others view me?  This is a continual learning process, as my own maturity, experiences, and environment are always changing. As a child, I became aware that I was treated differently growing up in a rather homogenous community in the Midwest.  I didn’t have much guidance to understand this until I connected with other multiracial people in college.  This is not an uncommon experience for individuals of mixed race, as it’s often the case that their parents are not also of mixed race. It was validating and invigorating for me to connect with others who also felt that they straddled multiple aspects of their own identity as society pushed to categorize them into a singular category. This process of better understanding myself and my interactions with others is continual in my life and has been integral in my diversity and equity work as an adult.

*Where did you go to college and what did you major in?

I did my undergraduate degree in Biology at Tufts University, where I also did a program for teacher licensure. Initially, I had plans of going into Biotech, so I did some work in Research and Development at a medical diagnostics company in Bedford. During this time, I also did volunteer work with middle school students at a school on the edge of Chinatown.  This solidified my decision to go into education.  Early in my teaching career, I earned a master’s degree in Biological Sciences at UMass Lowell, including performing research at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. I still have a deep passion for Biology and very much enjoyed my studies at the graduate level. This fall, I will return to Tufts University to begin a master’s program, specifically in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership. I’m excited to reunite with some of my former professors in the Education Department there, and I look forward to further developing my own diversity and equity work in Westford and beyond.

*What is your role as the  Co-facilitator, of the WPS Diversity & Inclusion Team?

In general, I have been coordinating all of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity efforts in the Westford Public Schools. One part of this is the district Diversity and Inclusion Team (DIT).  I have been co-facilitating this team with Superintendent [Everett V.] Olsen.  Initially, we focused our efforts on truly understanding who we are as a community, where we currently stand on this important work, and what our vision is for moving forward. We spoke with students primarily, in search of the best understanding of what challenges face the young people in our educational community on a daily basis.  We have always attempted to stay true to this in our work, continually involving and focusing on our students.  This past year, I structured the DIT into several working groups, to focus our efforts on maximum productivity. These groups worked on a variety of important, high-priority areas, such as planning staff Professional Development, organizing student focus groups at various grade levels, utilizing parent feedback and efforts, partnering with community religious and cultural groups, and supporting our partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as we implement its program for middle school and high schools students called “A World of Difference” (AWOD).

*Tell us something about the diversity composition of WPS.

The Westford educational community is simply amazing. There is a rich spectrum of gender identity and expression, religious and cultural affiliation, mental and physical abilities, racial and ethnic groups, forms of creative expression, and talents in academic, athletic, and artistic venues. While there is a clear majority in terms of the dominant identity groups (white, cis-gender, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, etc.), it is our hope to better support and celebrate ALL of our community members.  We want each person to feel they are seen, heard, valued, and safe.

*At what age do you typically see students expressing themselves as gender non conforming? Transgender?

Each individual is on their own personal journey when it comes to gender identity and expression. Additionally, these individual attributes are not static.  Rather, they are fluid and may shift and change throughout a person’s life. Many parents of transgender children share that they knew their child was transgender from a very young age, such as 3 or 4 years old. For others, they may not arrive at an understanding of and comfort with their own identity to confidently express themselves until much later in life.  As with all attributes of individuality, each person travels their own unique journey in search of what’s right for them.

*What is the appropriate lingo?

Words are powerful, and language by nature is always shifting and evolving. The most important thing any person can do is to ask an individual how best to address them.  This might be uncomfortable or embarrassing for the person asking, but it’s certainly a much better gesture than unintentionally offending the person being spoken to.  In general, some helpful resources include:

https://www.genderspectrum.org/the-language-of-gender/ ,

http://www.racialequitytools.org/glossary, and

https://ncdj.org/style-guide/ .

*Were you consulted when the School Committee began updating its student policies?

One of the valued members of our WPS DIT is School Committee member Alicia Curtis Mallon. She often serves as an informal link between the DIT and School Committee. Additionally, I have reached out to School Committee members directly at times and have been invited to present DIT updates at School Committee meetings.

*Are students member of the WPS Diversity and Inclusion Team?

Currently, the students we work with are in the ADL AWOD program. Students in grades 7-11 are invited to apply to be trained with the ADL as peer facilitators through this program.  We have active AWOD programs with faculty coordinators in each of the three 6-12 buildings in WPS.  Additionally, the DIT has arranged elementary student focus groups, in which the young students have informal and friendly conversations with a couple of our AWOD-trained high school students about bias and inclusion. There are so many other students in the district also engaged in this type of work in a variety of groups at the middle schools and high school, and we certainly look to partner with them when appropriate.

*How long have you served on WPS Diversity and Inclusion Team?

A few years ago, Superintendent Olsen reached out to staff to invite participation in a district “Cultural Awareness Committee” to examine how culture was viewed and handled in the district, particularly in relation to religious and cultural celebrations.  I was a member of this committee, co-facilitated by the superintendent and  Sean O’Leary, the district Health and Wellness curriculum coordinator at the time. That year was spent exploring the topic of culture, in partnership with an individual from Fitchburg State University who led discussions.  The following year, Sean pursued a leadership opportunity in another district, and Superintendent Olsen invited me to co-facilitate with him.  At that point, we took some time as a group to examine who we are and what we wanted to do. We rebranded ourselves as the Diversity and Inclusion Team and created a mission statement and tangible goals. This past year was spent working tirelessly to make progress towards some of these goals.  I am so very thankful to have such a phenomenal group of dedicated individuals work together to actively make progress on these in the district.

*How and why did you get involved?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have all been central forces in my life throughout the many roles I’ve taken while interacting with others.  I continue to explore my own identity through all of life’s twists and turns, and this has taken on new meaning as I’ve become a parent. My greatest pleasure in life is connecting with others and learning from the personal experiences and information that many are so generous to share with me.  In my career as an educator and coach, I have enjoyed developing these same connections with my students and athletes.  I have always strived to be a compassionate and supportive mentor for young people, with the hopes of helping them to become better versions of themselves.  It is this confidence and comfort with challenge that enables people to effectively share their gifts with others.  I am lucky in that some of these connections have developed into friendships that continue well beyond graduation.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be inspired by these young people as they mature and find their own voice and place in this world.

UPDATE: “Extra Tidbits” in sidebar were added on July 2.