Student voice in reimagining integration Alumni of Color Conference

Earlier this month, hundreds of educators, students, academics and activists descended onto Appian Way, home of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, for the annual Alumni of Color Conference. The theme this year was “Radicalize, Reimagine, Reconstruct,” and so RIDES’s work on reimagining integration fit right in.

For one of the panels, educators and one student who we’ve worked with talked about how they are reimagining integration at their schools, with a special focus on the role of students.

Here are some highlights  from what they had to say.

Niles West High School; Skokie, Ill.

Jason Ness
Principal Jason Ness, center, talks to a group during the AOCC session.

At Niles West High School, there are 2600 students, compared to only about 300 adults. So Jason Ness wasn’t surprised that student voice really made his staff’s work around diversity and equity click.  

“One of the things that really transformed our work was bringing the students into it,” he said.

Now, students at Niles West also go on “instructional rounds,” where they observe a specific “problem of practice” in classrooms, like lack of student belonging, and then come back together with staff and administrators to talk about solutions.

“We’re carving out a definition of what equity looks like at Niles West,” Ness said.

West High School; Iowa City, Iowa

Leen Hamza
Leen Hamza, left, talks to student attendees of the AOCC session.

This December, RIDES founder Lee Teitel traveled to Iowa City for a three-day workshop at West High School, which, as West student Leen Hamza pointed out at AOCC, is an oasis of racial diversity in relatively homogenous Iowa. (The school is about 60 percent White, compared to more than 90 percent of the statewide population.)

Faculty at West have been doing work around implicit bias for a couple of years, but in December, they invited students to the table. Through instructional rounds, a team of students, including Leen, state and district-level administrators, and school faculty identified patterns around race and belonging in the classrooms at West.

This semester, they’ve been poring over that data and talking next steps.

Hamza, a junior, said that the implications of their work are even bigger than school.

“Implicit bias and lack of representation and systemic racism exists at pretty much every school, because that’s just how society is,” she said. “The way that people treat each other in society is not very different from the way that people treat each other in schools.”

East Somerville Community School; Somerville, Mass.

The students at East Somerville, a K-8 school only a few miles from Harvard might be young, but they, too, have a lot to offer, said principal Holly Hatch.

“They want to help, they want to be engaged,” she said.

ELL teacher Valquiria Gouvea said that the school’s partnership with RIDES “has really illuminated...that students need to bring their ideas about what is happening at our school, and what they want to see.”

Bowman Elementary School; Lexington, Mass.

Principal Mary Antón isn’t new to work around diversity and equity -- she’s been spearheading conversations and professional development focused on racial inclusion and cultural competency for years. She and her faculty have worked with RIDES two-and-a-half years.

That partnership has informed the creation of a Bowman-specific Dismantling Racism curriculum, that helps students of all ages talk about race, power and oppression. Anton realized the need for such a curriculum after having a realization: “[I realized,] we’ve left the children out this… We wanted our students to understand that these issues of power and oppression are ongoing, and to have the tools to talk about it, and we also wanted to have a call-to-action, for students to feel like they could take action.” The curriculum is now in its second year, and being expanded.

Interested in hearing more from educators about how they began to listen to student voice to affect change in their schools? Learn more about our own conference in May.