Our Program

Social Justice & Equity

Lucy Sprague Mitchell, who founded Bank Street in 1916, asked, “What potentialities in human beings—children, teachers, and ourselves—do we want to see develop?” This question continues to drive our knowledge that human beings can improve the society they have created. As members of the Bank Street School for Children community, we continually challenge ourselves to grow from the opportunities and tensions inherent in people learning and working together.

Social justice, community, and advocacy are at our core because our strength comes from our diversity, which we view broadly. In developmentally appropriate ways, we explore aspects of identity including race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, social class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, family structure, ability, and learning styles. Our work is grounded in supporting positive identity development for students, families, and faculty, who see themselves reflected in the community and become advocates for social justice and allies in an inclusive community. In this way, we seek to improve the society in which we exist. 

Learn More About Our Approach to Social Justice & Equity

Affinity Groups at Bank Street

The term affinity group refers to people who share a similar identity but not necessarily the same experiences. The group offers a time for reflection, dialogue, and support. It ultimately strengthens the ties within the community and is central to creating an inclusive and thriving community. Below is a list of affinity groups at Bank Street:

  • MS Student Groups

    Middle School Groups
    Student participation in Middle School affinity groups is a family decision requiring consent.

    The Gender Spectrum Alliance is a group that is open to all MS students, thus it does not require parental consent to participate. Though participants may identify as LGBTQ, this is not a requirement for participating in this group.

    For information about the following Middle School student affinity groups, please contact Hazel Hunt, Middle School Division Head, at hhunt@bankstreet.edu, or Maria Richa, Director of Diversity, at mricha@bankstreet.edu.

    • Banana Splits
    • Adoption Affinity Group (formerly Touched by Adoption)
    • Kids of Color (KOC)
    • Gender Spectrum Alliance
  • US Student Groups

    Upper School Groups
    In the Upper School, students can independently join affinity groups and clubs without familial consent.

    For information about the following Middle School student affinity groups, please contact Saara Mahjouri, the Upper School Division Head, or Coy Dailey, the Director of Diversity.

    • Banana Splits
    • Adoption Affinity Group (formerly Touched by Adoption)
    • Kids of Color Jr. (KOC)  – 10/11s and 11/12s
    • Kids of Color Sr. (KOC) – 12/13s and 13/14s
    • Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA)
  • Parent Groups
    • Parents of Children of Color (POCOC)
    • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+)
    • Learning Diversity Support Group
    • White Anti-Racist Affinity Group (WAAG)
    • Adoption Affinity Group
  • Teacher Groups
    • Educators of Color (EOC)
    • White Anti-Racist Affinity Group (WAAG)

Our Program

Bank Street has had a deliberate and responsive approach to social justice and advocacy since the 1990s. In the Lower School, students focus on concepts like sharing, friendships, same versus different, responsibility, fairness, and inclusivity while learning how racial identity, gender identity, learning differences, and family structure are part of our everyday lives. Children explore diversity through books, conversation, classroom guests, and music. The Racial Justice and Advocacy (RJA) curriculum in the Middle School and Upper School empowers all students to take part in developmentally appropriate lessons and activities based on themes related to racial identity and advocacy. It is a dedicated curriculum that focuses on positive racial identity and prepares students to be advocates for social justice.

  • Lower School

    3/4s (Preschool)

    Students in the preschool program learn about sharing and friendships. They are problem-solvers and helpers. They work on a project book about their family and their role in the family. Students have classroom jobs, including taking care of classroom pets and plants. We all help clean up!

    4/5s (Pre-K)

    In the 4/5s we think and learn about our similarities and differences. For example, while people have different body parts, we are also similar in that everyone can be fast, slow, wear the same clothes, and can choose whether to be called a boy or a girl or another gender identifier. We work together to solve community challenges. We learn about social activists and activism within our classrooms, our school, and the broader world. Continuing the work started in the nursery year, we create family boards and learn from guests invited into the classroom who tell their family stories. Puppet shows help us examine issues of social justice, such as sharing, exclusion, and standing up for people. Supporting children in their ability to identify themselves with language describing their race, gender, ability, religion, socioeconomic status is a focus in the 4/5s year.

    5/6s (Kindergarten)

    In the 5/6s, children are developmentally focused on fairness, whether it’s between peers, the school, or grown-ups. They create a family page in a book. We empower children to be advocates for themselves through the discovery of their own identity.

    6/7s (First grade)

    Thinking about communities is the major focus of the 6/7s social studies curriculum. Essential questions include: What is a community? How do communities function? What are the needs and wants of communities? How are decisions made? How and why are communities the same and/or different from each other? A big idea underlying this study is the interdependence between people from which concepts about personal identities naturally emerge. We also consider and discuss how race, economics, culture, and language affect neighborhood communities.

    The 6/7s are developmentally ready to think about communities outside their immediate family, classroom, and school. They consider the essential questions in relation to communities beyond Bank Street and into greater New York City. Their learning culminates in the actual construction of a community, called Box City, made inside the classroom.

  • Middle School

    7/8s (Second Grade)

    In the 7/8s, children are developmentally able to consider multiple perspectives. We study traditional fairy tales and consider whose stories are being told, and whose are not. Children then choose a fairy tale to rewrite, focusing on how to make the stories more inclusive of underrepresented identities and perspectives.

    The 7/8s’ newfound capacity to consider multiple perspectives, combined with their emerging awareness of “long ago,” allows them to investigate how the Lenape lived before and after the arrival of Europeans to Mannahatta. Children discuss the pros and cons of the European invasion and how that has influenced our country’s political and racial structures. 7/8s discuss assumptions and stereotypes about modern-day Native American culture and are asked to consider ways in which they can stand up for the rights of marginalized groups in our society.

    7/8s also spend the winter thinking about the concept of human rights: What is a “right” and what rights should all people have? They examine current and historical situations in which people were denied their rights. They also consider how these people advocated for themselves and their communities to secure their rights.

    8/9s (Third Grade)

    In the 8/9s, we focus on civil rights and the history of race in the United States.

    We examine the quest for equality over the last 200 years through our study of  Civil Rights, incorporating the narratives of African Americans, Chinese Americans, and Japanese Americans.  We learn about laws that caused inequality, the ways people reacted to this injustice, and the upstanders and allies who helped support change.

    We ask: What are rights? What rights do you think all people should have? How do people get rights? What do people do if they aren’t getting treated equally?

    9/10s (Fourth Grade)

    Community conversations, both planned and emergent, abound in the 9/10s—about classroom fairness, learning differences, peaceful conflict resolution, social identifiers, prejudice, activism, current events, and representation in books and other media.

    Students begin the year studying food systems, and conversations about food insecurity, hunger, and equitable food access emerge. Students brainstorm what they can do to help alleviate hunger locally. This has led to child-driven fundraisers and experiences with organizations who do this work in the community. We move on to study world biomes, which leads to environmental advocacy to protect these habitats and natural resources.

    In connection with our Human Growth and Development and RJA curriculum units, we teach a unit about gender identity. We read George, by Alex Gino, which is one of the first realistic fiction novels for this age level to include a transgender main character. The curriculum includes lessons in reading comprehension as well as lessons around gender identity and advocacy. We address topics including assigned gender versus gender identity, gender expression, and transgender activism.

  • Upper School

    10/11s (Fifth Grade)

    In the 10/11s, our social justice work is evident in our Social Studies, Current Events, and Community time curricula. In Social Studies, students explore an in-depth study of Culture. This provides us with many opportunities to address issues of equality, human rights, and stereotypes. Additionally, our Current Events work surfaces issues and topics around gender normativity, immigration, racism, and more. We use our Community time as a platform to discuss social justice while taking into account the developmental needs of our students. Some topics include equity versus equality, ability, and advocacy (both in our school community and the world at large). The curriculum for the 10/11s focuses on studying China and the stereotypes related to it. Students engage in persuasive writing about the issues in the community and society related to social justice and they study sex, gender, and sexuality. We engage in a series of lessons on learning styles, learning needs, growth mindset, and equity and with respect to learning. In music, students study world music and learn about political music from artists like Bob Marley or Fela Kuti.

    11/12s (Sixth Grade)

    Loudness in the Library: Empowering Students to Think Critically About Identity & Bias is a highlight of the 11/12s year. Students examine the implicit and explicit messages in children’s and young adult literature, advertising, TV, movies, and other forms of media to understand the effects of those messages on how they think about race and gender. Students learn to think critically about messaging, whether it is positive or potentially dangerous, and why.

    We delve into the history, beliefs, and practices of major world religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Students study different religious practices to understand the similarities and differences, as well as some interactions between different cultures and religions. They learn of the origins of each religion and the traditions/beliefs each holds; this is reinforced with visits to places of worship for each of the five major religions. They examine the historical basis for various religious practices, and how traditions are maintained and adapted. There are also opportunities for students to reflect and to write about their own values, within and outside religion.

    In Woodshop, students create figure sculptures—self-portraits or superheroes, in the gesture of how they are making the world a better place. In music, the students learn about the history of American popular music since 1955. There are frequent discussions about how music intersects with culture, history, and social justice. Racial and gender issues often come up in class as the students learn about different musicians.

    12/13s (Seventh Grade)

    In social studies, students study American history by engaging with the diversity of our country’s story every day. Students learn about the tapestry of multiple perspectives in viewing our nation’s history, concluding with an essay to discuss the access to freedom and rights for different groups over time.

    The Science curriculum includes a unit on Human Sexuality and Reproduction. Students discuss diversity of gender, sexual orientation, and anatomy.

    In the spring, the 12/13s learn about jazz in music class. The history of the genre and its unique place as an American art form created by people of color is paramount.

    13/14s (Eighth Grade)

    Over the course of 16 weeks students engage in four major themes of study, which are Peer Pressure, Racial Identity, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, and Advocacy. In addition to their own explorations of self, students are taught to see and confront injustice, to be upstanders (individuals who recognize when something is wrong and act to make it right) rather than bystanders, and to engage difference through curiosity, decency, and respect.

    Students study gender. In French class, they watch movies such as Tomboy and analyze the characters’ emotions and family structure and offer their opinions. They discuss grammatical gender in the French language versus biological gender. Students engage in cultural and historical studies that are geographically and/or temporally distant and compare and contrast these studies with their own experiences.

    During the winter term—January and February—a comprehensive civil rights unit is taught, spanning Reconstruction to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Students examine the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, seminal Supreme Court decisions, legislative actions, executive orders, and highly orchestrated protests to learn the twists and turns of a century-long struggle to secure equal rights for black Americans. There is special focus given to the role of ordinary people and extraordinary leaders in initiating coordinated and long-term campaigns for lasting social and racial justice. Three overarching questions guide the unit: What are the ideals or promises about freedom and justice that the United States makes to its citizens? How are these ideals, rights, and promises different from the reality for many groups of people? What are specific actions people can take to protest inequality and injustice? Over the course of the unit, students come to appreciate that the civil rights movement was a primary force for the expansion of democracy for all people.

Teacher and two children smiling at work table

Language Values

In our interactions as adults and with children, what we say matters. At Bank Street School for Children, we use language that is free from assumptions to help ensure a safe and inclusive community for all individuals and groups of people.
Access our Language Values Guide Additional Social Justice Resources
Group of Middle School students smiling

Building Racial Equity

The School for Children’s commitment to social justice and equity is part of a larger, historic mission by Bank Street College of Education to build racial consciousness and fluency across our institution. We live this mission in our own community but also through our work with school systems, program partners, and communities as we collaboratively and intentionally engage in anti-racist practices and interventions that dismantle systems of oppression.
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Art, Shop, and Diversity

As vital parts of the curriculum at Bank Street, the art and shop programs support student’s learning and growth through interaction with materials at each stage of their development. The school’s art and shop curricula support children in constructing a visual language as they reflect on their experiences and express their understandings of the world. Through artistic investigations, children become better equipped to make meaning from the world around them and, in turn, learn more about themselves. Motivations and concepts discussed in art and shop allow children to reflect and discover more about themselves and their peers. Race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, social class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, family structure, ability, and learning style are intentionally discussed in developmentally appropriate ways and used in various motivations.

Students march for gun control

Spotlight on Progressive Education:

Social and Racial Justice Curriculum
As a New York City independent school, we make regular and deliberate use of the world outside our walls. Social issues are examined and discussed head-on. Indeed, marches for justice have happened within the school, in the neighborhood, in collaboration with adjacent schools, and in citywide marches such as the annual New York City Pride Parade.
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