GRDIA: Doing the Work to Welcome and Include All of Glen Ridge

The purpose is in the name. The Glen Ridge Diversity and Inclusion Association (GRDIA) works to uphold a school district and community where all Glen Ridge families feel welcomed, seen, and included in their township. Founded as a 501(c)(4) in 2019 by Tricia Akinwande and five other Glen Ridge parents to address a gap in diversity within the Glen Ridge Public Schools, the group has grown in purpose and focus as support has blossomed. The current co-leaders, Tricia Akinwande and Felice Yeh Bettenbender, along with an active membership, work to uphold the GRDIA’s goals in the Glen Ridge school district and the community as a whole.

According to Ms. Akinwande, one on-going project is encouraging the Glen Ridge public schools to widen the book choices in the curriculum. To that end, the GRDIA curriculum committee researched grade-appropriate books for K-12 students that included diverse characters and authors. The committee members matched books to established curriculum goals, sought input and buy-in from classroom teachers, and provided the curated list to a the school district’s administration. GRDIA members are optimistic that their work will help add a variety of books to the Glen Ridge school libraries and classrooms to ensure all children see themselves in the literature they read for school.

Another long-term project is increasing diversity in school staffing and administration. Hiring classroom teachers and school staff is a challenge in Glen Ridge because of low turnover, the difficulties of attracting a depth of diverse candidates to Glen Ridge, and a national teacher shortage. The GRDIA has worked to emphasize the importance of diversity in the schools as well as working on ways to encourage more diverse teachers to consider Glen Ridge as an option. One direct accomplishment following the group’s advocacy has been the creation of the school district’s first ever affirmative action officer. The GRDIA members also assisted in vetting consultants to perform a diversity, equity, and inclusion survey of the school district. 

via GRDIA’s Instagram account

Tricia Akinwande is pleased with the support from the school board and the administration is far. She shares, “They’ve been receptive [to our work], kept the door open, and they’ve made positive changes in professional development. We’re hopeful that our suggested additions to the curriculum will happen soon.” Part of the GRDIA approach is speaking directly with school board members and the Glen Ridge schools superintendent with consistent and specific messaging. This approach keeps the group focused, realistic, and consistent.

Adjusting the image of Glen Ridge towards open to multiculturalism together with raising awareness that the population is growing in diversity is part of how the group hopes to attract more diverse candidates to apply when positions open. In the meantime, to foster positive change for current students and staff in the school district, the GRDIA has also been advocating for professional staff development that addresses bias awareness training, provides tools and resources, and helps the staff learn about creating culturally compassionate classrooms. District staff has been supportive and receptive to the increased attention to DEI programs.

Both the Glen Ridge Black Diversity and Inclusion Association (GRBDIA) and the Glen Ridge Pan Asian American Association (GRPAAA) are under the umbrella of the GRDIA and have worked to raise awareness and solidify a community focus on diversity in Glen Ridge. Sharing information like the Black History Month newsletter and holding celebrations like a community-wide picnic help both spread the word and assert that Glen Ridge’s diversity is active and strong. The GRDIA’s work towards more community engagement, fundraising, educational outreach, and creating opportunities for awareness are all a part of encouraging community buy-in to the focus of the group. 

To continue work on the group’s goals, maintaining the active and consistent communication with the school district is paramount. Keeping up interest and attentive action focused on the three founding goals of diverse staffing, curriculum, and community cultural appreciation, is also important. Future events, like the upcoming mahjong game night, are a part of creating a welcoming and inclusive community in Glen Ridge as a whole.

When asked what about the GRDIA makes her most proud, Tricia Akinwande doesn’t hesitate. “I’m most proud of the level of participation and volunteerism from our allies; it says to me that the entire community, not just the minority community, values what we’re doing.” 

To stay informed about the Glen Ridge Diversity and Inclusion Association’s work and events, sign up for their newsletter here, and check out their website here.

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