Last spring, as we began to formulate the path we would start to take as a middle school staff to deepen our understanding of the role race plays in our lives, our students’ lives, and in the life of our school, we didn’t know exactly how it would go.
The evidence suggested the experiences of students and families of color here at SAMS were different than the experiences of families who were white. This school, the one we hope to build into a place where all will learn and contribute, was perpetuating whiteness. Ignoring the evidence that told us our kids and families of color were predictably more likely to experience SAMS as a place unconducive to learning and contributing only sustained racial injustice.
For a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment, we had to make changes so as to guarantee the mission and the vision of our school could become a reality. Our mission and vision required us to come to terms with the notion that all students, regardless of their racial identities, are far less prepared for our globally-networked, perpetually-evolving economic, political, and social world when we fail to dig deeper into the role race and racism plays in our lives, their lives and in our school.
We began this work about one month after Mr. Castile was shot and killed and two weeks before school started, and we invited all staff, parents, school board representatives, community members and students to come listen to how we intended to go about this equity work. That night in August, we shared that our school’s learning goals this year would be about racial equity and whiteness. Specifically, the goal was for all of us, the grown-ups at SAMS, to grow deeper in our understanding about how race and racism impact our lives, our students’ lives, and our school community.
Now, we are months into this racial equity work. Without diving into the all of the details of our journey, it’s been an extraordinary one. We’ve heard from many stakeholders, we’ve heard from many kids, we’ve heard from many parents. As teachers, we’ve tried to reflect on our own racial identities, and we’ve tried to expand our compassion for the perspectives of others. We were warned by experts and school leaders who have been doing this work for far longer than we have that this would be a difficult year. When we don’t know what we don’t know, we are going to make mistakes. When we have limited experience talking about race, we aren’t going to be very effective when we first try. When we start inviting our students into this conversations, we are going to have commit to listening to their perspectives and helping them understand the perspectives of others.
So, we are retelling all of this in the blog today because we see an uptick in racial conflicts in our school. Not many, but more than we are used to. We take them seriously, and we respond as appropriately and thoroughly as our vision, values, policies, and practices demand us too. In the past week or so, we’ve investigated and responded to five incidents that include actively racist statements (like the use of the n-word) and passively racist situations (when ignorance allows everyday racism to go unaddressed). SAMS remains a safe, open, and authentic place to learn and contribute.
As we struggle with situations where race plays a significant role, we remain more committed than ever to our racial equity work. Our urgency to do this work and get it right drives us to always be open to conversations, emails, meetings with anyone interested. Monday at SAMSA, we had an engaging, diverse, deep conversation, and it made a positive impact on the ways in which we went about this important work today.
Our request for you today is to stay engaged, stay in touch, and keep us accountable in this work. When we model trying to live racially just lives and when we help students do the same, we are serving the children well. And the children are all ours.