Traditionally, the first meeting of the school year is held in the McMahon Theater. The Head of School welcomes the faculty and staff and makes a few remarks, and then new faculty are introduced. Robbins recalled sitting in the theater with her fellow PE teachers and watching people as they wandered in and took their seats.
“And I’m sitting there, looking at people coming in, and that’s when I said to myself, ‘Oh wow. Okay. No wonder Barbara Fricke was intentional about reaching out to a predominantly Black college to find a teacher,’” Robbins said. She quickly realized that she was the only African-American teacher in the school.
After a year of teaching PE at the Middle School level, Robbins eagerly took advantage of an opportunity to move to the Lower School to be with the age group she loves. As the only African-American teacher at PD, her younger students were curious about her. “Some of my babies would just come up and touch my skin, and I would just say to them, ‘Oh yeah! Come on – it’s okay!’ And, then I’d reach down or give them a hug . . . That’s happened to me countless times,” Robbins said.
Despite the welcoming school environment and support of her colleagues, Robbins said she was frustrated during her third year. That year, there was an unusually high amount of faculty turnover, and Robbins met many of the applicants who were people of color. She said that she liked many of them and thought they would do well at PD, but ultimately, the open positions were filled by White people. Robbins was disappointed, but she acknowledged that because personnel matters are confidential, it was possible that the school may have offered jobs to minority candidates and been turned down.
Robbins said that Providence Day “ . . . seemed content to grow within its own walls, but I wanted to share this school with everybody.” So, she started to meet with the administration to talk about diversity. She said that everyone, especially Head of School Gene Bratek, really listened to her. “I feel that the school took my concerns and dove into it.”
“It’s changed a lot, but we’ve got a lot of miles to go.”
As Robbins reflected on how the school has changed since she joined the faculty in 1990, she said it has grown in ways she never would have expected. “I never thought we’d have an African-American as the Head of Admissions or the Head of Lower School,” Robbins said. Nor did she ever imagine that Providence Day’s student body would be more diverse than the other independent schools in Charlotte. Robbins recalls recently looking at a picture of a kindergarten class and being surprised and proud of how diverse the “beautiful faces” were. “It’s changed a lot,” Robbins said, “but we’ve got a lot of miles to go.”