Nearly 40 students participated in the inaugural Leadership Institute for Equity and Social Justice, which was held June 19-22 at Kromrey Middle School.
In all, 37 students ranging from eighth-graders to recent graduates, participated. Another 60 adults, including staff members and parents of children in District schools, participated in a concurrent institute. Another dozen District staff members served as fellows or facilitators, Director of Secondary Learning Laura Love said. Both institutes were open to all, she said.
The content was similar in the two institutes, although Love noted there were important differences. Students were allowed to recommend actions staff can take and ways students can influence their peers. The focus of the adult institute was on interrupting biases that negatively impact student populations.
The student institute was 20 hours, while the adult institute was 24 hours. The District has held adult institutes on equity and social justice the past two summers, and will hold another adult institute in July. Love said the District plans to hold another student institute in the summer of 2018.
Topics included defining equity, disparate student outcomes, implicit and unconscious bias, stereotypes, microaggressions, counter stories, community building, and other methods for taking action. One of the most powerful sessions was the personal experience panel in which 11 students or adults shared their own experiences before all of the other participants.
"We are hoping to create an open mind for staff and people in society to look within before looking at what others are not doing or could be doing different or better,'' Director of Elementary Learning Rainey Briggs said. "We wanted to work from the inside out. We also want to be transparent with what the data is telling us and to begin thinking about ways that we can change and do things differently.''
Staff members who participated as fellows or facilitators included Love, Terry Andrews, Marisha Ash, Matthew Braunginn, Percy Brown Ashia Dale, Antonio Hoye, Jalateefa Joe-Meyers, Peter Kechele, Lindsay Muniz, Michael Nass, Holly Reardon and Mandi Sersch. Demond Hill, who graduated from MHS in 2014, also participated.
Among the highlights of the institute, according to students, were:
- "Everyone coming together and being able to speak our truth.''
- "Opening my eyes to the real struggle in the world and knowing people want to take action with this problem.''
- "Being with a diverse group and being able to talk and have an experience with others.''
- "Beginning to feel like I belong and am part of a community and really learning so much more about these issues and how to take action.''
- "Even though I couldn't relate to everyone's stories in the personal experience panel, it was great just listening and learning.''
Students also offered suggestions for action that can be taken:
- "If any race has a problem, don't judge their problems by skin color and just help the best you can.''
- "Don't give up on minority students.''
- "I would like for teachers to realize we care about education.''
- "Zero tolerance for racially charged incidents; make all punishments fair for the problem at hand.''
- "Be present in our lives -- interact with us, learn from us, help us with our work, support us and recognize us.''
- "Increase the diversity of staff.''
Briggs was thrilled with the response from participants, especially staff.
"It was gratifying to see staff come out of their shells and be open and honest about the work and things they would like to do differently,'' he said. The staff is eager to see where we go from here.''