Planting and Nurturing SEED at GPS

National project informs, educates, and equips participants
Thirty years ago, English teacher Kathy Barker began GPS’s initial foray into its association with The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). SEED partners with communities, institutions, and schools to develop leaders who guide their peers in conversations to drive personal, institutional, and societal change toward social justice.

The roots of SEED took a firm hold at GPS decades later, when additional teachers attended leadership training and returned to campus to share their knowledge. At that time, other groups, such as interfaith forums, began to sprout across campus to provide venues for discussions about inclusion and acceptance among students and their adult leaders. 

Katy Berotti, Chair of the English Department, attended SEED leadership training the summer of 2017, and she, along with former English teacher Amy Piper, ran the project at GPS for two years. Berotti then partnered with science teacher Keith Sanders, who was trained in 2019, upon Piper’s departure. This summer, Lauren Lawrence Swanson ’09, BDEI Student Support and Community Engagement Coordinator, and English teacher Lindsey King will attend leadership training. Other leaders have included former English teacher and Communications writer Anne Exum and Dr. Andrea Beckvoort, Chair of the History and Social Sciences Department.

“SEED helps you understand yourself and what you were taught about identity growing up,” Berotti says, “so there’s a blend of talking about your own experience and listening to the voices of others in the room.” 

According to its website, SEED honors and develops local leaders rather than bringing in outside experts to lecture. SEED leaders guide their colleagues in experiential, interactive exercises and conversations often stimulated by videos and reading, which allow the perspectives of others to be brought into the conversation. But there is no perfect formula, no right or wrong answers. 

“The idea of thinking about how to be supportive of students and colleagues becomes less about whether I do it right or wrong but how to function better and be more supportive,” Berotti says. This directive has proved invaluable to Berotti both as a leader and a participant. “The preconception that you are good at this or not, makes it too easy to divide the world into those who are right and are wrong. SEED points out that there is always room to grow.”

Those concerned about feeling uncomfortable during the process should be encouraged to attend as Berotti says SEED avoids shame of privilege and rather focuses on responsibility after self-investigation. And for teachers, the project helps them learn to be supportive of students as our girls learn to suss out their places in the world. 

“SEED is for our faculty, but it’s also about having students be open to growth and think critically about the historical and current state of our nation,” she says. “That’s not unpatriotic but the best way to move toward ideals and to function productively, responsibly, and compassionately in a wider world with global connectivity.”

SEED provides faculty and staff with 25 hours of professional development and meetings were recently held one Saturday morning per month throughout the school year. There is no outside work or preparation required, but a commitment to attend consistently for eight months is strongly encouraged. Those who have attended report forming strong bonds among their peers during the sessions.  

Sanders, who participated in SEED for a year before leading the project with King this past year, says the curriculum is amazing. In addition to his science background, Sanders has a master’s degree in counseling, a foundation he finds particularly helpful as a teacher of his young students and as a colleague. 

“I have a natural inclination for relationships between people and how we should work to avoid situations where people seem to be at odds with each other,” he says. During his training, Sanders says he was surprised at the extent of discrimination people go through for simply being who they are. “Given my background, I was probably less surprised than most, but it was a transformative experience.”

Sanders says he now sees that the differences between us enrich who we are as a people. “We are hardwired to some degree to evaluate how we are different even when our similarities are much more numerous.”

Both KIng and Sanders complimented the foundation that Berotti and Piper built. King participated with SEED her first year at GPS and stepped into a leadership role with enthusiasm. She and Sanders opened up the project this year to include McCallie faculty, and a total of 12 participated between the two schools. 

“I believe we use our individual stories and lived experiences to learn about the systems that exist in our lives,” King says, “and should be looking at how we can continuously improve our school and community to make ourselves and the places we live in more equitable.”

SEED prompted King to ask how she can be a change in her classroom and then ask what needs to change on a larger scale. “It’s very reflection-driven and teaches you that no action step, however small, is insignificant.”

For Swanson, this year was her introduction into SEED as a participant, and she approached it with an open mind about what she might learn. “I was pleasantly surprised by how in depth we went with topics and how personal some were,” she says. “You have to do some deep thinking when answering questions about yourself.”

One exercise, What’s in a Name, proved particularly transformative for Swanson. “You write your name, where it came from, where you came from, and where your family came from,” she explains.

Including Swanson, there were four persons of color in attendance. “All the white people knew their heritage and, it was so eye-opening, that I ended up doing a DNA test and having conversations with my family,” she says. “I’m not sure if I would have asked those questions had I not done that activity, so now my kids know their heritage.”

As King and Swanson prepare to attend leadership training this summer, they’re also evaluating how to grow SEED (perhaps calling it SEED 2.0) among the GPS community and determining how to remove barriers to participation. They’ve also considered starting a book club, incorporating BARWE (an educator’s program) as an option for faculty and staff, and extending SEED to students and parents. 

“Our goal is to build a stronger community and leverage former SEED participants to start larger conversations,” King says. 

The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) partners with communities, institutions, and schools to develop leaders who guide their peers in conversational communities to drive personal, institutional, and societal change toward social justice.

SEED leaders design their SEED seminars with the flexibility to adapt them to their own local needs. They include personal reflection and testimony, listening to others’ voices, and learning experientially and collectively, in the context of each participant’s intersecting identities. Through this methodology, SEED equips participants to connect our lives to one another and to society at large by acknowledging systems of power, oppression, and privilege.