A response to vandals and sedition

Once again, I am writing a blog post about our school’s response to a national tragedy. I learned this evening that this tragedy has been compounded by a local hate crime. A vandal tied a Confederate flag to the door of the Museum of Jewish Heritage across the street from our school. This was done in sight of the train car that carried innocent people to Auschwitz to be brutally treated and killed.

I am sickened. I am grief stricken. I am angry.

At the same time, our kids and teachers give me hope.

On Thursday, all of our students began to process this news in developmentally appropriate ways. For example, our kindergarteners listened to Dave Eggers’ book, What Can A Citizen Do? and talked about ways that community members work towards peace and safety through kind actions. Our fourth graders started their conversations by reflecting on the norms they have for being part of a community. Our eighth graders started by reflecting on their beliefs:

Each of these approaches is grounded in listening to children and reflecting on the values that they are developing. We made sure to listen to the information that they have, correcting misconceptions and answering questions, and giving them choices of ways to participate (or not) in these conversations.

These initial conversations are just part of the work that we all need to do as we live through this historic time. As educators, it is our professional obligation to help young people process information, engage as citizens, and critically evaluate news and information.

Over the coming weeks, we will continue this work as part of our commitment to teaching Civics and the democratic ideals of justice and equity. And we know that giving people the opportunity to engage in some form of action is empowering and alleviates anxiety. We will be offering all community members the opportunity to participate in a COVID safe and winterized version of Sidewalk Chalk for Peace over the next week. More information will be sent home next week.

I worry for our nation and our society. We live in very challenging times. But, as Mary noted at a meeting on Thursday, the values our students express and their commitment to making the world a better place are evidence that my hope is not misplaced.

Thank you, staff

One of my many new year’s goals is to communicate more about what is happening at school and in life. Here is my start to that goal. Each week, I send an email to staff with updates and reminders. These emails always begin with a short framing of and reflections on our work as educators. This is from an email I shared with teachers before break…

On and off, I pretend that I am fluent in Twitter.  I don’t often remember to check it and when I do, the disorganization overwhelms me.  However, this thread showed up in my feed that is inspirational. My riff on it is…

I have learned in the face of this pandemic that 276 staff have the ability to…

  • make me laugh each day with their sense of humor and joy in children;
  • create a sense of community through a screen, and building virtual and in-person traditions; 
  • remind me of the power of collaboration and teamwork as you help out on Fridays, plan together, support each other with technology, etc.; 
  • teach me what it is like to be an educator who cares deeply about children and justice and equity during multiple pandemics;
  • give me grace and forgiveness for momentary panic attacks, poorly phrased “wokeness,” and awkward efforts to invite people in to difficult conversations;
  • provide me with a sense of community and connectedness through these lonely months of isolation and responding to the larger bureaucracy in which we work
  • offer me opportunities to learn about the world through their interests in travel, reading, politics, art, creating, music, and athletics;
  • And allow me to learn to be a better me. 

I appreciate each and every one of our staff members and want to publicly thank them for everything they do for our community every day. 

Preparing for this week’s news

As a school community, we know that 2020 has capped a number of years of increased tension and strife around social, racial, public health, economic, and political issues. This year’s national elections and the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified these tensions. While we await election results this week, our students will have lots of questions and our teachers will guide conversations based in fact while also helping students to process their feelings.

As I shared at the last PTA meeting and in the email I sent out as a follow up to that meeting, we know that students learn best when they feel safe and recognized.  We do this by helping them develop social-emotional learning skills. CASEL, a highly regarded organization dedicated to social-emotional learning (SEL), organizes these key skills into 5 categories. 

We know that dialogue and an informed citizenry are critical to our democracy. We are so fortunate to live in the United States where we can challenge and question policies and elected officials, to have a range of media to learn from, and to have access to a public education that encourages students to ask questions and learn from each other. 

  1. Self-awareness: How am I personally feeling?
  2. Social-awareness: How are others feeling?
  3. Self-management: How will I behave now that I know how I am feeling and how others might be feeling?
  4. Relationship-building: How will I interact with others based upon what I know about their feelings?
  5. Responsible decision-making: What actions will I take to appropriately express my feelings in a way that is also respectful of how others might be feeling?

As we process the news over the next several weeks, the answers to these questions will help our students feel safe in tumultuous times.  Our school mission statement affirms we recognize the importance of diversity, equity, and student voice as we prepare students to become responsible members of our society.  At 276, each family brings unique cultural insights, political perspectives, and experiences to our community. Despite all this diversity, we all share the value of care and respect for others. 

With appreciation for your partnership, 

Terri 

I am…

I recently read (and started re-reading) Marc Brackett’s book Permission to Feel. Brackett is a professor of psychology at the Yale Child Study Center and the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.  In this book, he gives a road map to understanding, expressing, and regulating our emotions so that we can achieve our potential as individuals and as a society.
He tells us that the first steps on this road are to recognize, understand, and label our emotions. I have a lot of them. Here goes.
I am deeply sad and troubled.  Lives are being lost. Families and communities are grieving. Our city and nation have been shattered by Coronavirus.  In February, a young Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, out for a run, was killed in Georgia. Until video of his killing was released on social media in April, the white men who killed him were not arrested.  In March, a first responder was sleeping at home. The police burst in with a no-knock warrant and Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman who had dreams of becoming a nurse died. On Memorial Day, George Floyd was killed by the police in Minneapolis.  Also on Memorial Day, Chris Cooper, an African American man who was birding in Central Park, was threatened by a white woman when he asked her to leash her dog.  And then the protests began — largely peaceful but erupting in violence causing curfews.
I am grieving and concerned for the Black community which is bearing a disproportionate percentage of the deaths from Coronavirus and who, decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, continue to suffer the effects of racist policies and ingrained racist behaviors. And I am angry about that as well. I am angry about the continuing injustice and our collective lack of ability to create positive change.
I am frightened for the people of color in my personal life (including my school people — teachers, students, parents) and for the people of color who I don’t know personally who live with the shadow of fear and anxiety over much of their lives.
I am worried about our children and the anxiety they feel when they watch the news and youtube videos and listen to the sounds of sirens and breaking glass.
I am disheartened for our city and our nation. Our ideals are so strong and inspiring and we are not meeting those ideals.
I am discouraged and, honestly, disgusted by the responses of our elected officials at all levels of government. I am frustrated by the lack of political and moral will that they tap in order to help our nation live up to its ideals of equality, liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.
At the same time, I am appreciative of our school community for their determination to engage in the difficult work of acknowledging inequities in our system, in our school, and in our lives.
I am inspired by our students who want to engage in the difficult conversations around race and justice and who work for a more just and equitable society. And I am inspired by our staff who remain committed to our students’ emotional and physical well-being, who are dedicated to educating children in thoughtful, empowering ways that help them become critical consumers of information and citizens who will use their voices, skills, and values to make our world better. As our mission statement says,  Our students are lifelong learners prepared to engage in the work of creating new paradigms for an increasingly inclusive and sustainable world.
I am determined to continue to learn more about the history of racism in our country and world, to engage in work that empowers our young people to be their best selves, and to advocate for greater equity and justice in our world.
When we are in school, we have conversations about racist actions and tragedies. Kids bring them up during meetings and during play, we have clubs that have equity and anti-racism as a focus, our teachers talk about these racist incidents with each other, and we have a parent/teacher committee that is engaging in anti-racist work.  Right now, teachers are navigating the remote learning environment in order to provide safe spaces for students to process their own feelings and to learn from and with each other.  Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee steering group is meeting to discuss how we can support our students and families process the news and all the feelings that go along with it.  We will be sharing a curated list of resources with families shortly.
This work starts with me. It starts with you.  We start with being aware of our emotions and feelings and understand them and then express them in ways that are productive and honest and respectful. I began to do this work publicly today. We start by being open and listening and then acknowledging our own positions and privileges in society and our lack of knowledge about the lives of others. And then we commit to experiencing the discomfort and anger and concern as we work together to help our country achieve our ideal of liberty and justice for all.

T(m)aking Time for Enrichment Activities

When we first went to Remote Learning and social distancing, an oft-repeated news item was about the creativity that “plagues” have afforded in the past. Apparently, Newton developed his theory of gravity and Shakespeare wrote prolifically when outbreaks of the Plague forced them to social distance. (As this blog in Scientific American points out, neither of them had children or Netflix to watch!)
We are a week into Remote Learning 2.0.  The teachers continue to work to refine the lessons and structures we are using for Remote Learning. For some students, this new schedule is fantastic — a good balance of screen and off-screen time. Others continue to struggle with the schedule and organization.  Still other students finish their work quickly and are ready for other activities.
Our specialist teachers — art, science, music, PE, library/FabLab, and Spanish — provide lots of options for students to pursue different interests. I follow Julie and Sam on Instagram and get frequent updates to the Padlets that Basia and Amanda use for sharing student work. One thing about learning from home that I really appreciate is that I get to see new aspects of student creativity.  During school, I see student brilliance in the school setting, now I get to see their work in new ways. 
There are also a number of interesting special projects available for students online through various arts and education organizations.  For example:
The Rube Goldberg Foundation has a #boredombustingrubemachine contest that challenges family teams to create a contraption that drops a bar of soap into someone’s hand.  The deadline for submission to the contest is May 31. Instructions for the contest and submitting entries is on their webpage.
The New Victory offers fun, free, programming each week. Past weeks have included clowning, songwriting, juggling, magic, and puppetry. These different programs are open-ended and challenge students to learn about how they learn, about their strengths and areas of interest, and storytelling.
EduHam at Home. Through EduHam, students study primary source documents from the Founding Era, learn how Lin-Manuel Miranda used such documents to create the musical Hamilton, and finally create their own original performance pieces based on the same material.  It will continue to be available through August 2020.
The Moth Storytelling School. The educators at The Moth have developed a series of storytelling lessons to be used at home.  Usually, a high school program, this series has been revised to be accessible to middle school students as well.
The Museum of Math has math classes for kids (for example, origami and the math behind origami, and Rubik’s cubes.)  There is often a registration fee for these programs.  If you scroll down on their page, upcoming events are listed.
What Now? is a science video series on youtube with Lynne Brunelle, writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Wonderopolis is a website dedicated to curiosity. I could absolutely go down a rabbit hole after the information on this website!  Spend some time browsing, pick up some trivia, discover new information, think of some questions you hadn’t thought before.

Remote Learning 2.0

Dear Families,

I apologize for the length of this post. I wanted to have all information for you in one place. I have bolded sub-headings to make it easier to navigate this document. 

Over this past week, I hope that your families have been able to take a moment to breathe deeply, catch up a bit, and recharge.  We are living in extraordinary times. Thankfully, the number of New Yorkers being diagnosed and hospitalized with Covid-19 is dropping.  However, we still have far too many people who are ill or are becoming ill and so social-distancing will continue to be required until at least the middle of May. Our economy continues to be battered by social-distancing and unemployment numbers are skyrocketing. 

Families in our community are impacted by this state of affairs.  Adults and children are under stress as they navigate family illnesses, remaining indoors, and the financial fallout. Even those who do not seem to be impacted are experiencing emotional stress. 

Providing emotional support through stability and consistency of relationships is one of our most important tasks right now.  

As we all know by now, remote learning is very different than learning at school in a traditional “brick and mortar” setting. While you are learning to monitor your children’s learning and also working at home, teachers are learning to work from home while caring for family members, locating resources online, repurposing tools they have at home for teaching, and honing their digital teaching skills. 

Our faculty have been hard at work all week revising remote learning structures to respond to parent and student feedback, evolving DOE policies, the research on remote learning, and the importance of supporting children emotionally through this difficult time.  We are launching “Remote Learning v. 2.0” on Monday. 

Grade teams will be sharing revised schedules with families this weekend. Key shifts you will notice are about scheduling and methods of teaching.  It is our plan that these shifts will help students and parents have a better understanding of expectations, organize their schedules more effectively, and maintain a strong connection to our school community. 

Schedules

In order to reduce screen time, help with executive functioning and organization, and accommodate the various scheduling constraints at home, we have reworked the schedules for students.  We also looked at available best practices on scheduling remote learning for children at different grade levels. The common recommendations are that we limit online time to no more than 3 hours for our oldest students with significantly less online time for younger students.  Students also will have offline work, such as independent reading and writing. The instructional day at home is different than the instructional day at school. Learning at home should also include chores and play. Don’t forget to schedule those as well. 

Live and video-based teaching

Faculty are planning for a blend of video-based, asynchronous teaching, and live, synchronous teaching.  The bulk of teaching will be asynchronous through curated resources and teacher-created lessons.  There will also be regularly scheduled face to face meetings via Google Meets to foster a sense of community and connection with staff and to provide small group lessons and/or office hours as age-appropriate.  

Content

Our faculty spent this past week looking at student work, the standards, and our curriculum to plan for units moving forward.  These units are selected and designed to support student skill development, knowledge, and independence. I am confident that your children will finish the school year engaged in the rich learning experiences that they are accustomed to.  

Report Cards

Teachers are entering grades for the second term into the grading system used by the DOE. Three things about report cards this term. 

  1. Because our switch to remote learning collided with the end of our grading period, we are encountering some technical issues. We hope to have them all resolved by the time grades are released on April 25. 
  2. We are not including comments this term. There will be comments on the final report card. We are awaiting new DOE policies on grading.  
  3. You will need to use your access to MySchools (mystudent.nyc/FAM) to see your children’s grades.  Because we have a different reporting system for PreK, Kim and Mary Jo will be sending out report cards via email. 

Counseling and Social-Emotional Support

Our two school counselors, Mara Boden (mara.boden@bpcschool.org) and Rachel Goodman (rachel.goodman@bpcschool.org) are here for you and your families even while we are not at school. Please feel free to reach out to either of them if you need support. They can also connect you with community organizations that are providing support remotely. Please continue to check our social-emotional website for new resources. 

Beginning the week of April 20th, Mara and Rachel will be hosting weekly school-wide mindfulness/ meditation sessions on Mondays at 2:00 PM to decompress and help decrease anxiety. The link is available in the email that went home.  

Special Education Supports

We are committed to continuing to support all our students.  Our staff is working to adapt lessons and instruction through multiple ways to foster learning for all students. Our ICT partnerships, paraprofessionals, academic support teachers, and related service providers are collaborating to provide instruction to meet the learning needs of our students. Asynchronous lessons allow students (and parents) to watch the instruction multiple times, to use closed captioning, and to adjust the pace of learning. We are also providing some focused small group instruction as appropriate for student learning goals and modifying expectations as needed. 

Related Services
Related service providers are closely observing how the students they work with are responding to tele-therapy in combination with the other learning activities they are doing with their teachers. Some students are also working with multiple related service providers. This is proving overwhelming for many and counterproductive for some.  The Related Service team has determined that they need to restructure some of the services that they are providing. They will be integrating asynchronous lessons into the work with your children (video teaching OT activities, for example, that you and your child can watch repeatedly.) This will enhance the impact of a coordinated effort to deliver optimal educational supports. This relaunch of Related Services is a natural result of our introduction of Remote Learning v. 2.0. 

What we ask of you

  • We ask that families look at these schedules together, consider the various scheduling constraints faced by families (shared technology, different work schedules, different time zones, etc.), and then create daily schedules for each student in the family.  As you create these schedules, remember to build in movement, snack, and brain breaks.   
  • Check attendance for your child(ren) on your MySchools account and log attendance.
  • We also ask that you let us know if your child or family is struggling in any way. We are here to support you. 

I spent most of the week in virtual meetings with grade teams, support staff, and other District 2 principals. At the close of each meeting, I was so grateful to work with such thoughtful, knowledgeable and caring professional educators.  I am very proud of the quality of the education that 276 is providing to our students in general and remotely. I am confident this new schedule and structures will allow all the students at 276 to continue to learn and grow. 

Finally, I want to share greetings from our staff.  (Here is the link to Lucas’s Chargers Banjo Song.) We miss seeing you and your children and are looking forward to the time when we can come together as a community.  

With warm regards, 

Terri, Nico and Alexis

Students are invited to join Nico, Alexis and Terri for office hours each day. Links are available in the email that went home. 

Nico from 8:00 to 8:30 am

Alexis from 12:00 to 12:30 pm

Terri’s from 3 to 3:30 pm

 

 

Thankful

Each week I write an email to teachers to remind us of the values and mission that frames the work we do. This is the email I sent teachers this week.

  • Last week, I noticed two kindergartens arrive at school together. One of them held the door for the other and then they held hands as they walked down the hall to the gym. There was a group of parents smiling and watching this interaction.  As one mom put it, “the more mature one is helping the other one.”  
  • I also witnessed caring in action in third grade. One third grader escorted a student with significant learning challenges into the building and then down the hall to the gym. When they came back through the lobby in line, they were holding hands. When they arrived at the elevators, they let go of hands and gave each other a hug. One of them took the elevator upstairs while the other walked with the class.
  • Some sixth graders made a mess in the cafeteria.  One of them stayed behind to clean up while Nico went to get the others to help.  At the end of the day, Nico and I spoke to them about their poor choices.  The next day, one of them sent an email apology.  Both Nico and I replied thanking the student for the apology.  Then another sent an apology.  We didn’t ask for these apologies; the students provided them spontaneously (or at the suggestion of parents – student one – and maybe the suggestion of student one – student two.) 

Our children aren’t perfect. We didn’t get four nicely written apologies — we got two. Kids still make mistakes and can annoy each other or say unkind things. We still need dean teams and to take the time to coach our children on wise choices. They (we) are all works in progress.  But these seemingly random acts of kindness happen throughout the school day.  The kids don’t seem to think they are a big deal. It is just how they are and how they relate to others. 

A recent conversation with a fifth grader compelled me to re-read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, the first read aloud of the fifth grade ELA curriculum.  At the end of the book, the principal of the school makes a speech at the year-end ceremony.  The school is named Beecher for Henry Ward Beecher and the speech references some of his ideas.  (If you haven’t read the book, you should. I strived to avoid any spoilers.) Here is a bit from the speech: 

“…Henry Ward Beecher was, of course, the nineteenth-century abolitionist — and fiery sermonizer for human rights…  I came upon a passage that he wrote that seemed particularly consistent with… themes I’ve been ruminating upon all year. Not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness.  The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s courage.  The strength of one’s character. … Courage. Kindness, Friendship, Character.  These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”  

These qualities are evidence of our students’ caring.  They learn this from the adults in their lives and from their peers. They learn it from the caring and compassion that our teachers model each day — their willingness to take time to listen and to reflect and to be humble and honest about their own growth as a human and by pitching in to support each other and our students. Our students see these acts and learn from them.  I am deeply appreciative, each day, for their tremendous modeling of caring and respect.

School – Home Communication

Last year, one of the goals of the School Leadership Team was to revisit our school mission.  We were able to synthesize it down to a few words (you can read a more expanded version here.) Our mission is to nurture students who are

  • Curious
  • Capable
  • Confident and 
  • Caring. 

This month during our SLT meeting, we launched work on clarifying how we plan for effective communication between school and home.   As we approach the middle of November, we want to communicate how our students are growing in these important ways. Test scores and report card grades are tools that measure and communicate how students are performing in terms of New York State learning standards. Teachers work hard on assessments and grading and these scores are an important piece of the puzzle in understanding a child’s successes and challenges. However, the qualities of curiosity, kindness, and confidence that are so essential to success in life are better communicated through conversations and anecdotes. 

At 276, we make it a priority to know each student well.  Teachers work with students one on one and in small groups, they observe students in different social and academic settings, they assess student work products, they talk to their colleagues to learn how students act in other classes, and they know about cognitive development and diverse learning styles.  They use this knowledge to develop an understanding of a child’s curiosity, the academic, social and emotional skills they have and need to hone, the confidence that they are developing in different situations, and their compassion and empathy. 

We know how important it is for families to understand how their children are progressing in school. We have multiple ways that we communicate with families.  For grades PreK through 5, we invite parents in for Family Fridays and send emails home about the curriculum and what children are learning. In middle school, when students are craving increased autonomy, we send home progress reports shortly before conferences to provide insights into how students are doing. 

Next week, is Open School Week when parents are invited to visit the school and observe classes.  We also hold parent-teacher conferences next week. In grades PreK to 4, parents meet with teachers to learn about their child’s progress. Starting in grade 5, we have student-led conferences because we know that students need to be part of these conversations if we want them to be able to set goals and advocate for themselves. Student-led conferences are a powerful strategy to help students become confident and capable learners. 

We know that in order to support each student, we need to enter into conversations about student learning with a positive, collaborative perspective. Please keep the following in mind for conferences: 

  1. Students need to know that parents, staff, and students are one team. A collaborative relationship is essential for student success.  
  2. Everyone on the team wants the child to be successful in all areas of life and learning.
  3. We care about the whole child — academics, social/emotional well-being, and physical safety. We may discuss homework, friendships, in-class participation, and even if they are eating lunch or drinking enough water. 
  4. We recognize that all participants in the conference are bringing unique and important perspectives and expertise.
  5. Conferences are only one snapshot of student learning.  

Report cards go home in December and March about 3-4 weeks after conferences.  This gives students a chance to try out some strategies discussed in conferences so that they get recognition for this work on their report card.  The final report card goes home in June. It has grades for the third term and also final grades for the year Our report cards are standards-based and use the format required by the Department of Education. The criteria used to evaluate student progress are aligned with Common Core Learning Standards and report how students are doing in regards to meeting these standards.  

If you have other questions about our school program or policies, you can check out our school website. It hosts many documents that describe our school policies and curriculum.

Each of these resources can provide more information about our school policies and programs. 

 

Educational Institutions in our Community

We are fortunate to have amazing cultural institutions in our neighborhood.  The Skyscraper Museum, right next door, helps us document the history of our school — from photographs of our building going up in their archives to resources of our changing neighborhood. The Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian, has provided our teachers and students a number of amazing learning opportunities that open our eyes to different stories and histories of indigenous peoples of the Americas. And we have the China Institute on Rector and Washington, Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, across the street.  We are surrounded by a richness of educational and cultural institutions. We are so lucky to have these resources so close by! They inform us and challenge us to think more widely about the world.

Often these exhibits are inspiring and uplifting.  Sometimes, they are sobering.

This spring, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is opening an exhibition on the history of Auschwitz.  The purpose of this exhibit is to  explore “the dual identity of the camp as a physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.”  As part of this exhibit, the Museum will exhibit a freight car that was used to transport Jews from the ghettos to Auschwitz.  The train car will be installed on the plaza in front of the Museum.  It will spark conversations in our community that may be challenging and informative. Children will have questions about it and we adults will need to think about how to answer their questions that are truthful and developmentally appropriate.

I did some research on some ways we can talk to our younger children about the Holocaust. First, it is important to note that there is wide agreement that we not talk specifically about the Holocaust with children younger than 9.

We can, however, make sure that we inform children accurately in developmentally appropriate ways and we want to make sure our responses to their questions build empathy and resilience. When we answer their questions, we want to be sure to 

  • Start slowly
  • Be honest but be careful what you say
  • Emphasize tolerance and respect
  • Insure your children that they are safe
  • Take action together to make the world better

That might sound like:

The Museum is a place where we can learn about Jewish history.  There have been some sad parts in the history of Jewish people.  They have been excluded and have been treated unkindly.  The Museum is telling one of those stories right now.  Later, when the Museum changes the exhibit, we can go there to learn about the amazing history of the Jewish people. 

There are some sad stories in history.  We learn from these and how people are resilient and how we can do things better than they were done in the past.

You can also begin with an example from your child’s own life in which your child or a friend was treated unfairly because of skin color, religion, or some kind of disability and talk with your child about how this felt. Then, together, you can practice speaking out against injustice:

  • “Talk like this makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like those words…”
  • “The train car is part of a sad part of history when people weren’t treated fairly. It is there to remind us of these stories and to think about how we can treat people kindly.”

You can also talk to your children about your own family’s traditions and how you help others and each other to help overcome adversity  There is research that shows that children who have knowledge of the ups and downs of their family story are more resilient than children who know little or who only know the good parts of the family story. “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

Here are some resources that can help you navigate these conversations. You should always preview resources before sharing them with your child.

How should you talk to your children about the Holocaust?

Discussing the Holocaust with Children

Books for children about the Holocaust

The Number on My Great-grandpa’s Arm (video)

The Museum is also holding a community meeting on Wednesday evening, March 27, to discuss the exhibit.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.

Talking about Race

Last fall, I received a phone call from a friend asking for some advice. Her first grade white son had said something racially insensitive towards the only Black child in the class. My friend wanted to make sure that she responded in a way that made sure the Black child felt safe and that her son learned why what he said was wrong. Just as importantly, she was thinking about how she was raising her White children to become more conscious and conscientious about the experiences of others.

When I grew up, and even when I was raising my daughter, the idea was that we should all be “color blind” so that we treat everyone equally. We assume our children are unaware of race and difference and that we adults can raise children to be non-prejudiced if we support this “color blind” approach. In fact, young children begin to absorb their cultural and racial identity in infancy and notice physical differences such as skin color, hair texture, and gender anatomy as toddlers. A color-blind approach reduces our ability to see difference.  If we do not see race, we cannot play a role in working to create a world with greater equity and justice.

At 276, a key component of our vision for our students is to help them become compassionate and caring individuals.  This means that we need to help children navigate the issues of race and difference that permeate our society.  Children hear about race and racism in the news, in the books they read, and on the playground. As adults, we need to help them process this information.

At the February PTA meeting, my principal report focused on the anti-bias and anti-racism work we are doing at 276.  This work is essential to achieving our goal of educating for respect. It helps us teach children how to live and work in a diverse world, builds empathy leading to children who are happier and more successful, builds strong social relationships and collaborative skills, acts as preventive measures to reduce mean behaviors and bullying, and will help us leave our children a kinder, more compassionate and humane world.  This is especially important because, according to FBI data, we have seen a 17% increase in reported hate crimes in the US in 2017. This was the third consecutive year of an increase! Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported last year, nearly three out of five were motivated by race and ethnicity.  The other two major causes were religion and sexual orientation.

Our faculty takes the social responsibility of educating children seriously. Together, we study our own identities, read widely, study history, and think about how we respond to acts of bias. The Southern Poverty Law Center publishes educational resources on anti-bias and social justice education that we find useful. In addition to social justice standards, they also have resources that help us be proactive in helping students become aware of bias and help us react in educational ways to acts of bias.  In order to effectively engage our students in learning about race, identity, and difference, we have to thoughtfully examine our own experiences, conscious and unconscious beliefs, and knowledge of race and differences.  This can be messy work, but we are committed to it.

There are three areas that we focus on at 276. In ways that are aligned with student age and readiness, we work to build

  • Accurate knowledge and pride in one’s own identity. This includes understanding history and the contributions of one’s group to society.  It also means that we have to help children understand the diverse stories that people within a group have.
  • Accurate knowledge about and appreciation of the history and contributions of other groups. Again, we have to make sure that children understand the diverse stories and experiences of individuals in a group.  In the US, we have a tendency to focus on only one aspect of a story. For example, African American history is confined to slavery and the civil rights movement and Jewish history is limited to early immigration stories and the Holocaust. We can counter this single story narrative by reading widely in fiction and non-fiction.
  • Understanding of how racism has shaped history and current social issues (this tends to happen as students get older.)

But sometimes children make mistakes as they grow and become aware of their identities and navigate social pressures.  When necessary, we apply the following four steps in responding to biased behavior.

  • Interrupt – Clearly tell the speaker or actor “I don’t like words like that. They are hurtful.”
  • Question – Reflect with the speaker about their actions/words. “Why do you say that? What do you mean? Tell me more.”
  • Educate – Help them understand the history and impact of those actions. “Do you know the history of that word? How else could you say that?”
  • Echo – When others speak up, thank them for speaking up. “I agree that is offensive and we shouldn’t act/talk that way.”

As I have been learning more about this topic, I have been finding some resources that I have found helpful.

  1. Raising Race-Conscious Children: this is a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. This is a link on their website for strategiesto help your children become race conscious.
  2. Embrace Race: this is an online community to discuss and share best practices for raising and caring for kids, all kids, in the context of race.
  3. SURJ Families: This Facebook group for families is a subgroup of Showing Up for Racial Justice. It provides resources and an opportunity to share experiences.
  4. Raising White Kids: A recent book on how white children navigate race in their schools and communities.