Racial Equity in Education

Black Lives Matter at School

As racism and xenophobia become more prevalent and overt in our schools and communities, it is more important than ever to listen to and elevate the voices, experiences, and history of our fellow citizens and communities under attack. The goal of Black Lives Matter at School is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation in school communities for people of all ages to engage with issues of racial justice. Find stories, resources and ideas highlighting Black Lives Matter at School from across the country here.
 

Portland Educators Engage Community Through Black Lives Matter at School

March 27, 2019

Thousands of teachers and students participated in Black Lives Matter at School events and actions around the country last month. In Portland, Ore., educators both celebrated progress they made around racial justice in education over the past year, and highlighted the hard work that remains in their schools and communities.

Nichole Watson

“Teachers want more culturally responsive curriculum, especially for black and brown students,” said Nichole Watson, who teaches 5th grade at Rosa Parks Elementary. “We want to be able to plan, organize and create safe spaces for educators of color. And we want to help our union to be proactive when it comes to racial equity — rather than defensive.”

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As in many U.S. communities, the Portland week of action took place in the context of a local police shooting and death of a young black man, as well as disparities in school resources that too often correlate to race and ethnicity, and rates of disciplinary actions that are disproportionately higher for students of color.

“Our school district has some pretty significant inequities in resources and staffing,” said Suzanne Cohen, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). “Educators have known about it for it forever. The neediest schools are not always getting what they need.”In the 2010 census, Portland was 76.1% white (non-Hispanic: 72.2%) and 6.3% Black or African American.

“Black Lives Matter is not just because we have a population of black kids,” said Watson. “It’s as much for kids who are not black – we need to be having these conversations and discussions.”

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Adolfo Garza-Cano, who teaches at Woodlawn Elementary School, said Portland educators were inspired by educators in Seattle who pushed for a Black Lives Matter Week of action and wore Black Lives Matter shirts at school. He said many Portland educators wanted to take part in a similar show of solidarity. “There was pushback from administrators, parents and the districts,” said Garza-Cano.

PAT surveyed its members. “The response was HUGE,” said Cohen. “They really wanted to focus on curriculum, especially how you discuss what is happening with police shootings.”

PAT educators formed a Black Lives Matter committee and came up with specific goals and event ideas. They also began gathering existing lesson plans and developing some of their own.

Cohen says other key issues PAT and the committee wanted to look at included:

  • More professional development for all teachers, including how to identify and understand their own implicit bias,
  • Restorative justice and what that looks like when done right, and
  • How to recruit teachers of color from the Portland area.

Watson responded to the PAT survey. She quickly became active in the formation of the committee, which in turn created a PAT Racial Equity Task Force focused on supporting and connecting educators of color.

“We have affinity groups and mixers and social hours,” said Watson. “We debrief and we strategize. And under that task force umbrella, we organize around celebrating Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.”

Rather than developing a Black Lives Matter at School plan of action and then asking the community for support, Watson said the task force reached out to community organizations and asked what they needed.

“We reached out to as many black community organizers as we know,” said Watson. “And we asked:  What are you doing that you need help with that a teachers’ union like ours could help with? Especially if has to do with students, or student work, or student art, etc.”

Adolfo Garza-Cano

“We are talking to nonprofits and leaders in the community who are already doing the work, locally, statewide and nationwide,” said Garza-Cano. “We shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel when there is already so much talent and experience out there.”

For this year’s week of action, PAT focused on three core activities and events: Developing and sharing lesson plans and curriculum, a film series and an art show in partnership with a community organization.

Early in 2019, PAT leadership and the Racial Equity Task Force worked with members of the Portland School Board on a resolution that would include language endorsing Black Lives Matter at School. The process broke down.

“They took our language and made their own edits and revisions and asked if it was satisfactory for us,” said Garza-Cano.

Garza-Cano, Watson and other PAT leaders felt the language was too watered down.  They asked the board to table the issue.

“Black Lives Matter is very politicized and triggers a lot of conversation,” said Watson. “We wanted to make sure the conversation was positive…. We aren’t giving up because we don’t yet have common language.”

Moving forward, Watson said PAT wants to work more with parents and community organizations. “Let’s have a community event where we sit down and provide food and child care and say, ‘Let’s see what kind of resolution YOU would like to bring before the board?’ ”

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#BlackLivesMatterAtSchool Twitter Chat Engages Educators Across U.S.

January 14, 2019

Educators around the country participated in a #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool Twitter chat last month, sharing a “starter kit” to help faciliate local organizing, discussing related teaching resources, and preparing for a national week of action in February 2019.

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Hosted by Black Lives Matter at School, a coalition of educators mobilizing for racial justice in education, the chat started on the @BLMAtSchool Twitter account and seeded discussion with questions such as:

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  • How do you plan to participate in the week of action?
  • How will you use the new “BLM @ School Starter Kit” to launch the movement in your school, district, and/or community?
  • “Schools show Black Lives Matter when they…” How would you answer this prompt? How will you engage students and community member in creatively answering this prompt?

Many participants lauded the starter kit as a valuable resource for ideas on how to initiate conversations – and action – in their schools and communites around racial disparities in education. The kit includes an overview of BLM@School, its guiding principles and priorities, teaching materials, suggestions for age-appropriate discussions about the topic, sample fliers and graphics, FAQs, ideas for local organizing, and more.

“We would like to share the starter kit to get parents, community, and students organized,” wrote Twitter user @Okaikor. “Many don’t know where to start or how to get plugged in. This is a start.”

The Center on Culture, Race & Equity (@CCRE_bsc) tweeted: “In our planning meetings we have used the starter kit to ensure that we are reflecting on the guiding principles of the movement, and to feel supported and inspired by the work that has been done to help set the foundation for our work today.”

The Black Lives at School movement has four core demands:

  1. End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice.
  2. Hire more black teachers.
  3. Mandate black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum.
  4. Fund counselors not cops.

“This is about restorative justice and doing the right thing,” wrote Twitter user @mrgwoods33 in response to a chat prompt asking participants why any of the core demands were important to then. “Our students need positive role models of color and we need to show our care for our students.”

Chat participants also shared and discussed teaching materials and additional resources for educators, including books, videos, web sites, and K-12 lesson plans.

Ethnic studies educator and author Jesse Hagopian (@JessedHagopian) tweeted that he is excited about sharing the 2019 “Creative Challenge” prompt with his students. “I will have my students create posters, videos or essays to display to the school that answer the question: ‘Schools show Black Lives Matter when they….’ ”

Hagopian is also co-editor of the book “Teaching for Black Lives,” published in April 2018 by Rethinking Schools.

During the chat, Teaching for Change (@teachingchange) shared the following image of one elementary student’s response to the 2018 @BLMAtSchool prompt ‘In a School Where Black Lives Matter…” and asked “How are you planning on joining us during the 2019 student creativity challenge?”

 

To browse messages and replies posted during the Twitter chat, search on the hashtag #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool.

 

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Find Black Lives Matter at School Events Near You

Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore… these are just a few of the scores of cities and communities across the country where educators, students and community organizations are participating in 2019 Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action events.

Click on the map below to find details on local events and actions!

 

 

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THE CASE FOR TEACHING BLACK LIVES MATTER IN SCHOOLS

Inspired by the Black Lives at School Day organized by educators in Seattle last October, a group of teachers in Philadelphia took the concept a step further. They sponsored a whole week of events around the 13 guiding principles of Black Lives Matter. The results were stunning.

More than 100 schools in the Philadelphia area participated in the action, scores of community organizations and parents pitched in to support the K-12 educators as did more than one hundred higher education faculty in colleges in and around Philadelphia. And because the action week attracted so much media coverage, educators from outside Philadelphia, including educators from New Jersey and Delaware, also took part in the after-school events which were part of the agenda.

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NEA activists launch series of video “primers” for anti-racist white educators

Luke Michener and Terry Jess are both white, male educators who teach at Bellevue High School in Washington state. They feel they have little to add to conversations about race with students and colleagues of color that those students and colleagues don’t already know themselves, based upon their own experiences.

On the other hand, Terry and Luke feel they do have a lot to offer other white educators who are committed to racial equity in education but may not know where to begin.

Inspired by their own work with students, as well as conversations they had at the 2017 NEA Conference on Racial and Social Justice, Terry and Luke set about creating a series of YouTube videos they hoped could provide other white educators with ideas, insights and tools to better engage in racial equity work in their own schools and communities.

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Racial Justice in Education

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Resources

 

Talking About Race

See resources, including classroom appropriate lesson plans, along with guides on how to have tough conversations with peers and students.

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Standing Together

See how cities like Milwaukee, Rochester, and Seattle have passed community and union resolutions to support Black Lives Matter at School.

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School Board Activism

Whether you're a regular at your school board meetings or just getting started, here are some tips on working with school boards and making your advocacy for students the best it can be.

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