District Endeavors to Reach Students With Virtual Equity and Diversity Curriculum

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(Ania Keenan, Photographer)
When the Miramonte Equity, Diversity and Inclusion group was first formed in July, 2020, they launched a quarterly “Racial Justice Reading Group” to provide parents and students in the community the space to discuss topics of race and equity through literature. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, was the first book on their list.

    As protests swept the nation in the weeks following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a video surfaced on social media platforms of students attending the Acalanes Union High School District using racial slurs, particularly the N-word.
    Following the videos’ release, Miramonte Principal, Julie Parks, acted quickly.
    Parks and her staff sent out an email to the Miramonte student body, parents and staff addressing the events and sharing the school’s strategy to develop a plan to improve campus education about issues of race and diversity.
    Over the summer, these plans solidified as board members worked alongside administrators and teachers from across the district to develop an approach to provide students across the district with better access to diversity education.
    When students zoomed into their virtual classes for the fall semester, they got their first taste of what the District had worked on.
    The District’s plan attempted to bolster diversity education by including mandatory diversity and equity lessons, taught by teachers, counselors and members of leadership, within students’ scheduled academy periods, which is a study hall-type class.
    A total of eight lessons, with titles like “Let’s Talk About Race” and “Uncomfortable Conversations,” were scheduled throughout the first semester.
    Once attendance was taken, a typical session consisted of equal parts slide presentation and discussion.
    Usually starting with a review of the guiding values of the program and a review of the principles of respectful discussion, a teacher or counselor presented information about the topic of the day, often a social construct or scenario. Students then grouped into breakout rooms to further the discussion with their peers.
    “The breakout rooms were generally fairly productive,” said Andrew Sidlauskas, a junior. “I’ve definitely had good discussions that lasted the entire time in the breakout room. But there have also been times where it’s been difficult to keep the discussion going. In those instances, they weren’t as productive.”
    The curriculum of these lessons received mixed reviews from students, as some longed for a more direct addressing of real-world issues.
    “They do a good job of confronting race in general, but they don’t really get into real world issues, like police brutality,” said Paige Mayes, a junior and also editor of the school newspaper Miramonte Mirador. “I think if they could have shown videos of the George Floyd protests and talked about police treatment of protestors while it was happening, it could have been very impactful.”
    According to Wellness Coordinator, Andrea Nishimi, from the Wellness Center at Miramonte, the source of some students’ dissatisfaction with the vigor of the curriculum may have stemmed from the school’s attempt to make the course accessible to a wide variety of students.
    “The hardest thing about coming up with a lesson for an entire school body is that you have to write a lesson where somebody who has never had this conversation can engage, and people who are really active in the conversation don’t feel like the pace is too slow,” Nishimi said.
    According to data collected by a survey put out by the Wellness Center mid-semester, 35% of Miramonte’s student body agree racism remains a serious problem for the school.
    Nishimi urged students who felt this way to seek out the additional services provided by the Miramonte Equity and Leadership class, the monthly diversity and equity conversation and the Social Justice Reading Group put on by the Miramonte Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Parents Group.
    According to Miramonte English teacher Steve Poling, another way to meet the needs of students who feel the curriculum may not be as robust as is necessary would incorporate anti-racism education in all aspects of the academic environment.
    “As important as diversity is, I think our schools also need to acknowledge and embrace the goal of anti-racism,” said Poling. “We need to build anti-racist work into every corner of the learning our students do, in all their classes in high school.”
    Mayes added, “I don’t know how many students have absorbed the information. I think it may have helped some students who were kind of checked out on the issue of race, or who didn’t want to talk about it, because it put them in a situation where they had to talk about it. I hope it changes things; all we can do is hope.”

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