Overcoming Racism Through Education Equity

On November 4, Voices for Racial Justice Senior Organizer Julia Freeman and Research and Policy Director Brett Grant presented a workshop at the Overcoming Racism conference at Metropolitan State University.

Their workshop, entitled The Pathway to Education Equity is Paved with Community at the Center, drew over 30 participants who were hungry to develop solutions to education equities in their communities.

Brett and Julia came to our weekly staff meeting the following Tuesday, energized by the conversations they had and reported on the learning the group did together.

The session was interactive and included small group work to unpack a scenario about participation of parents of color in parent-teacher conferences. At the center of their conversations were the community experiences that were behind low participation in parent-teacher conferences, and the Pathway to Education Equity tool that Voices developed in collaboration with community partners.

The Pathway Tool draws on the experiences of students and families in assessing the barriers to education equity. The development of solutions also centers these experiences, recognizing that building true and sustainable equity in schools must address the structural barriers that prevent indigenous students and students of color from experiencing positive learning environments that support their full growth.

Centering these experiences does not mean that educators, administrators, and other community members are not part of the process. In fact, they are essential to seeing the barriers, developing solutions, and implementing them fully. The Pathway process recognizes the necessity of all these stakeholders coming together in a way that furthers the vision for education equity, allowing everyone to see how we may all be part of supporting inequities – and that we all have a role in dismantling structural barriers.

“Each small group identified the equity goals that emerged from the scenario, and narrowed down to one or two to work on,” said Julia, “and then the participants used the Pathway tool to begin crafting solutions. The groups came up with some great things like holding conferences on weekends and making home visits.”

At the end of the workshop, a participant asked Julia what excited her most about her work. “I told her I love working with parents and youth to develop opportunities for them to co-create the solutions with their school. They start seeing that they are the experts.”

Brett reflected to the group what he loves most about the Pathway tool. “I told them that, for me, what I like most about the tool is that it allows me to dream again. It reminds me of the potential that is education. It reminds me of why I am excited about education. The conversations that took place in that room were so powerful,” said Brett.

One participant shared that “It felt good to be in a room working on education equity that you don’t leave feeling guilty, or not knowing how to take action.”

Another reported plans to “definitely introduce the tool and Voices for Racial Justice to our district.”

The Voices team looks forward to supporting the expertise that already exists in communities by continuing to share this tool with others. Reach out to Julia Freeman to learn more.


With a Focus on Equity, What A Difference A Year Can Make

Julia Freeman

Julia Freeman

A little over a year ago, I met with Principal Halee Vang of Hmong International Academy (HIA) to tell her that her school had been selected by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to partner with Voices for Racial Justice and pilot the Education Equity Project that includes the Pathway to Education Equity Tool. She thought this was just what the school needed.

Hmong International is a K-8 located in North Minneapolis. The school has 588 students the largest demographic is Hmong, and African American students are the second largest demographic. HIA is a community school.

Principal Vang had just transitioned from Assistant Principal to Principal and inherited all the tensions of the school. The Hmong parents and African American parents were at cultural odds with one another. The parents had marched to the District and spoke at many School Board meetings about their problems at HIA. Principal Vang, however, was committed to working for equity.

Key to that process was an intentional outreach to organize parents and youth of color and American Indian parents and youth. The process also included teachers and education specialists. Through surveys, listening sessions and 20 Equity Team meetings we were able to reach nearly 300 people, with 187 were of these 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. The majority of the people were parents or youth of color. The equity team, which included parents, youth, and teachers, sorted through the responses and identified three main priorities for action.

    1. Diversity inside our school (Cultural events and celebrations, physical space represents student population, curriculum, and language)
    2. Communication (clear and increase culturally sensitive communication and frequency, and multiple means)
    3. Teachers reflecting the diversity of the students at HIA

The implementation of most of these priorities starts in the 2016/2017 school year.

So here we are at the end of the first year of our HIA Equity Team journey some may ask what the impact has been. I would like to highlight a few changes — things we can really see. First the school climate has changed. People feel listened to. A racially and culturally inclusive school climate – in which everyone feels included and respected, where cultures are honored, and where people feel the school is fair – is important. There is now more unity at the school between staff, parents, students and the community.

Second, some changes important to parents or students have already been implemented. For example, African Americans and Native Americans in the school had felt their cultures were not included at the school, and even the Hmong families felt that more depth and language teaching was needed. Principal Vang responded by hiring an African American multi-cultural teacher, and building a class focused on the different cultures of the students at HIA into the core required curriculum. This teacher uses leaders from different cultures at the school and community cultural leaders as guest teachers. She realizes no one teacher can authentically hold everyone’s culture.

Third, The HIA youth voice is more amplified in a powerful way. Many youth joined the equity team, and began to take powerful leadership roles. This was evident when they spoke at the Minneapolis School Board meeting and shared the reports. I was very proud of them.

Fourth, paying attention to equity seems to have become a central part of the culture of the school, and may even be affecting test scores. At the last HIA Equity Team meeting Principal Halee Vang shared with us that out of the 8 Priority Schools, HIA was number one in growth for closing the gap for students of color based on MCA scores. When asked at a principals meeting of her peers she was asked how she was able to accomplish this. Principal Vang said it was all the equity work she’s been doing with parents, staff, students and the community.

What a difference a year makes working together for education equity.

Julia Freeman is Senior Organizer for Racial Justice.


Engaging Latino Families for Student Success

image001A great opportunity to add community voices and experiences to a conversation about education equity for Latino students in Minnesota. Registration is required at https://mdelatinoconference.eventbrite.com.

On Thursday, April 10, 2014, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), in collaboration with the Consulate of Mexico, Consulate of Ecuador, Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio, Chicano Latino Affairs Council, Latino Economic Development Center, Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, Autism Society of Minnesota, the PACER Center and the University of Minnesota Extension will be hosting a conference entitled Engaging Latino Families for Student Success. As a leader in your community, we hope that you will be able to attend.

Please mark your calendars to join us on April 10, 2014, from 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The conference will be held at MDE, Conference Center B, Room 15 and 16.  All conference presentations will be in Spanish. If you would like to request a translation headset, please indicate that when you complete the registration.