Friday, June 30, 2017

MSAN Presentation: “A Classroom in Color”

The week after classes ended for students, many CHCCS teachers went right back to school - at the Summer Institute for Professional Learning. Among the many workshops teachers could choose from, one stood out as the only option led by students: “A Classroom in Color” from our district’s Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). The nine MSAN members, eight of them from our high schools, and one Chapel Hill High graduate who’s UNC-bound, led four sessions of their group-designed workshop. The reviews from those who attended were full of enthusiastic and reflective praise. The feedback was so positive, in fact, that superintendent Dr. Baldwin asked the students to present the workshop once more, this time to dozens of district administrators during Leadership Week. That session closed with a standing ovation from participants.
The content of the Classroom in Color workshop draws from discussions and brainstorming the students engaged in during their annual MSAN retreat in the mountains last winter. Throughout the year, they analyzed the CHCCS Student Code of Conduct, and they shared their experiences with microaggressions in various school contexts. With support from members of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate staff Marlow Artis and Lorie Clark and Director of Equity Sheldon Lanier, MSAN presenters addressed strategies to provide more equitable solutions to the disparities in instruction and discipline that students of color encounter. As Artis tweeted after the initial sessions, “Our #MSAN students are not afraid to ask the tough questions at the @CHCCS Summer Institute.”
Not only did they tackle the tough questions, but they designed a workshop that kept district staff engaged, starting with three essential questions:
“In what ways will you examine and analyze challenges that impact minority students?”

“In what ways will you change your approach to instruction and discipline to eliminate disparities and predictability based on race?”

“How will you collaborate with students and stakeholders to acknowledge and embrace their voices?”
Participants jotted down answers on Post-It notes and students led a brief discussion before moving on to a Prison to Pipeline PowerPoint and then a competitive game to check for understanding. Though the pace was fast-moving, it’s likely that teachers will revisit those essential questions, perhaps again and again, when they return to classrooms in August.
The workshop closed with a student-led restorative justice circle. Nearly everyone shared at least one observation or realization. Students described the challenges that shape their experiences as the sole student of color in Advanced Placement classes - or being told that an A.P. or honors class “isn’t a good choice for you.” One young woman noted how often she feels called upon to “speak for a whole race” when she’s the only African-American student in a class. Several presenters spoke about their priorities as MSAN members, to advocate for other students who believe their voices aren’t heard - and to make classrooms more welcoming and fair.

Tiffany Newsome, who has just completed her principal internship at Smith Middle School said, “I was very moved by the experiences that the MSAN students shared. They reminded me of the call to action that every educator has to do whatever it takes to see all of our children succeed. I learned from this session that we can have the best of intentions, but if our students don't feel supported, then we have missed the mark!”