The concept of the Inclusion Lab was born in an answer Kalyan Balaven gave to James Joyce at a live taping of the show Coffee with a Black Guy as part of a special Endowment for Youth Committee Presents event, Balaven spoke to the potential he saw in Santa Barbara County in becoming an Inclusion Lab.
Balaven, the founder of the Inclusion Dashboard Consortium, a coalition of over 200 independent schools throughout the nation committed to measuring inclusion and using a methodology that he created, believes “inclusion is not a special interest” and has taken that philosophy with him to the Dunn School, where he is the headmaster.
Balaven says, “When schools compete in inclusion, they are being exclusive,” and he encourages an active partnership between schools – and believes the solution lies in a public and private partnership.
As a writer and a lead voice in matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the educational world, Balaven has written many articles outlining how to measure, the philosophy of inclusion, and the role inclusion plays in the building of a mindful community.
Balaven is also the founder of Inclusion Factor, a think tank for schools around inclusion and using his acumen and his new found network in Santa Barbara County, to launch the Inclusion Lab.
The Inclusion Lab of Santa Barbara County is designed to serve as an easily imitated model for other regions of the United States and beyond. The partnerships of schools uniquely measuring a sense of belonging and sharing resources could revolutionize inclusion in the educational space such that every student is being fully served.
The model is one we hope can be emulated and the Inclusion Lab is available as a resource for other regions to develop similar private-public partnerships for inclusion.
Balaven presenting to the Inclusion Lab of Santa Barbara in 2021.
The Inclusion Lab is committed to three meetings a year for school leadership in public and private schools in the region. A late summer meeting sets the intention for the year, a mid-year shared workshop on a shared topic of interest, and ending the year with a reflection on the themes that have come up for schools over the course of the year. Balaven serves as the facilitator of this group that currently includes superintendents and heads of school from the following schools and school districts:
Montecito Union School District
Hilda Maldonado, the Superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District and one of the founding leaders of the Inclusion Lab says that "without inclusion of those from all corners of life, our society, and our nation is not as strong as it can be. The welcoming of all ideas and backgrounds makes for a better world, one where humanity is prioritized over politics and class differentiation." For her, the Inclusion Lab is "The opportunity to share successes — and failures — in order to create a situation where rising tides lifts ALL students, providing equal opportunities to those from all backgrounds, ultimately leveling the playing field. We can only do this when we are all aligned in our collective goals."
Irshad Manji of the Moral Courage Ed has partnered up with the Inclusion Lab of Santa Barbara County to engage in work around empathetic communication skills in order to create an inclusive culture. This work is multidimensional and challenges educators to create spaces that build community for both students and faculty. Irshad Manji leads a special Inclusion Lab workshop in 2022 to speak to the shared needs of schools in Santa Barbara County.