Edward Simon Cruz
“In middle school, Team 7D had a debate about whether racism was still alive in America. The teachers set up the debate and watched as I, a black woman, tried to explain to my white peers how racism is still alive, even though Barack Obama was running for president. The debate ended with my peers winning the debate, and me justifiably upset. It happened over 10 years ago, and still has left me with a bad taste in my mouth,” said a WW-P High School South alum on the Instagram account @blackinwwp.
Over the summer, people have used platforms like these to share their experiences and advocate for racial justice. The Black Lives Matter movement this summer has reminded us all of this systemic racism ingrained within our society, and how issues of inequity and injustice also affect the daily lives of many members of the High School North and the larger WW-P community.
“Conversations about racism demand community conversations and action,” said superintendent Dr. David Aderhold in a message to the community earlier this year. “Our African American and Black students and families need partners, allies, and advocates.”
District administrators have begun many conversations to reevaluate the way they educate students about race, and they, along with other members of the community, have already taken steps to address these issues. However, the work has only just begun.
The Knightly News is launching an ongoing series to explore questions and issues surrounding race. As our community works towards amplifying underrepresented voices and becoming a more inclusive space for all students, staff, and groups, we look to bring attention to areas of improvement in WW-P curriculum, policy, behavior, and practices.
Current Developments from District Administration
This summer, administrators dedicated time to extensive professional development regarding racial sensitivity training and unconscious biases in school environments. North’s Assistant Principal Jessica Cincotta, an active member of WW-P’s district equity team, implemented a training workshop centered around challenging beliefs and identifying unconscious biases. “When we talk about race, when we talk about inequalities, it’s uncomfortable. I hope that you are uncomfortable; it means you might be changing, and hopefully changing for the better,” says Cincotta, emphasizing the beginnings of a reprioritization within North’s administrative agenda.
The district has developed Three Strategic Goals: incorporating strategies to help students of different backgrounds to fulfill their potential, equipping students to be active participants in their community and society, and ensuring that students remain healthy and well. Increased focus on embracing diversity and global students came with its struggles. “How do we create a separate goal for equity? It’s part of everything that we do. But again: it might need its own statement so it doesn’t get lost along the way,” Cincotta said.
The administration recently hired Anthony Jones as its first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Coordinator. His role involves creating avenues for student discussion and policy reform, while acting as an advisor for future race-related changes the district intends to make in the future. This move marked a new step in the implementation of the district’s strategic plan and a possible step towards a more developed racial, equity, and inclusion department in WW-P in the coming years.
Curriculum Transformation and How It Appeals to Race
Over the summer, various staff members helped revise some of the district’s curricula, including those for the middle school IRLA curriculums along with those for Language Arts I, II, and IV. According to the updated documents for the Language Arts I curriculum, teachers should use texts that “shed light on inequities in society” and “reflect diverse voices and perspectives.” Teachers made similar revisions to the curriculum for Language Arts II, which remains centered around American literature. During the process, they acknowledged that many of the often-taught “classics” are written by white men, and they sought to be deliberate in broadening the canon that they used to be more inclusive.
“Our curriculum guide has become much more about neglected, marginalized voices, in particular the Black voice that has not been given enough space,” voiced Cathy Reilly, the Language Arts supervisor for grades 6 through 12. “We really wanted to make more space for the Black voice from Black writers and their experiences, not their voices from white writers.”
The Social Studies department is also exploring ways to emphasize different perspectives across its curricula by piloting new books within certain classes, including a young adult version of the Ibram X. Kendi book Stamped from the Beginning. Similarly, it is in the process of developing documents for an anti-bias curriculum; one teacher in the district is drafting his own version for the district to review and revise in the near future.
“We’re working on a curriculum document that would state the position that not only is there anti-racism, but also we want to have an experience that is more representative of our entire country [and] our entire community,” said Social Studies supervisor Carl Cooper.
Future Developments and Contributions to a Larger Conversation
The question we must ask ourselves, however, is if these district initiatives have feasible courses of action. Despite recent progress made, WW-P efforts have the potential to go much further.
For one, the inclusion of “diverse texts” in the classroom may not be as transformative as it seems — at least, not on its own. As Barrett Honors College professor Benjamin Fong expresses in his piece “Teaching Racial Justice Isn’t Racial Justice,” “The problem comes in thinking that these individual transformations are themselves small-scale social transformations… Yes, diverse perspectives ought to be incorporated into our courses, but the future of American society does not hang on our collective syllabuses being carefully weighted for race and gender.”
While our district has taken strides in including more diverse texts in both the Social Studies and Language Arts Departments, simply dropping representative texts into curriculum plans does not solve the problem of racial inequity. Rather, the success of these actions is dependent on the nature of pedagogical approaches in the classroom. By moving away from instruction on the basis of memorization and towards teaching students how lessons in curricula apply to current social issues, educators help students formulate their own abstract line of thinking: a line of thinking that allows students to understand the reality that racism is still a pressing issue while emboldening them to push for a reality that is more inclusive and equitable.
Students have begun rising to the challenge, contributing to the larger conversations surrounding race and inequity. “I would love to have a student affinity conference. I love what these student groups are doing. They can talk about microaggressions, talk about race, but more so from a student perspective,” Jones asserted. Student panels, virtual events, and discussion forums all expose people to different perspectives and provide them with an opportunity to reevaluate their own as they seek to build a more anti-racist environment.
Administrators have engaged in these conversations, and they have met with various student groups that focus on racial justice and equity within schools, like the HSN Shades Club, the HSS Black Student Union, and the WW-P POC Advocacy Group. Administrators have also invited students from groups like those to speak at professional development sessions on topics like the importance of being an ally.
However, the work our school community has ahead of us is of paramount importance. Undoubtedly, combatting institutionalized racism is a difficult task. Both students and adults will need to continue making active efforts in order to create both a curriculum and a community that includes everyone, especially voices that were once marginalized. Progress does not stop with a discussion or a message to the community; it must be part of progressive action, capable of continually enacting change while opening ourselves to a more complete understanding of the world around us. To do so, we must ask ourselves: In what ways does institutionalized racism pervade WW-P curricula? How do we embody an anti-racist school climate? And now that we have taken preliminary steps toward becoming more anti-racist, how do we ensure that the momentum is not lost as we rewrite the narrative of race education in WW-P?