Season 2, Bonus Episode 2: Not Just Another Building
In an episode recorded live at SXSW Edu, we’re hearing from educators and Teach For America alumni about the role of school within their communities.
During an educators' meeting in Memphis, KeAsia Norman, a BIPOC educator and aspiring school leader said, “If a school isn’t actively engaged in the community, it’s just another building.” In this special live episode, host Jonathan Santos Silva is joined by a panel of innovative BIPOC educators and Teach For America alumni passionate about radically re-imagining the role of school within communities. Through their unique insights, we learn how to transform school buildings into vital community spaces that better reflect their students’ and staff’s needs.
Jonathan Santos Silva, Host:
From Teach for America's One Day Studio, you're listening to Changing Course. All season long, we examine the barriers Black, indigenous, and people of color, or BIPOC teachers face, when they step into their classrooms. We discussed why representation matters, not only for students, but for teachers as well. We explored establishing new, non-traditional pathways into the classroom through coaching and mentorship. We even looked at combating burnout with community care. All these topics had one thing in common, creating a classroom culture that values community.
Back in March, we traveled to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest EDU, and brought together a panel of powerhouse speakers who discussed the importance of creating healthy school cultures reflective of the community in which one serves. In today's episode, you'll hear audio from that discussion featuring thoughts from Christopher Sandoval, Ebony Payne Brown, and Tony DelaRosa, visionary, BIPOC educators from the Teach for American Network who are passionate about radically re-imagining the role of schools within communities. We hope you enjoy this special live episode.
In an educator's meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, KeAsia Norman, a BIPOC educator and aspiring school leader said, "If a school isn't actively engaged in the community, it's just another building." And that's true. Our kids, especially Black, indigenous, and other students of color living in urban areas, have enough buildings. What they need, what we all need, is vital community and vital education. During the panel at South by Southwest, we impact what it actually takes to create community, an educational ecosystem that's built on collaboration and active engagement. Our panelists all agreed that a healthy school can't just be another building.
My name is Jonathan Santo Silva and I'm joined today by three powerhouse educators, and rather than me introduce them to you, I would rather have them introduce themselves, and so in the tradition of our show, I want to invite each of you to introduce yourself in the ways that feel most comfortable and complete. So, if that includes multiple languages, the roles you play, not just at work, but at home and in community and in with your families, please do so.
Christopher Sandoval, Guest:
Hello, everybody. [foreign language 00:02:48] My name is Christopher Sandoval and I'm a proud teacher at KIPP SoCal Schools in Los Angeles, California. KIPP Community Prep is a school that I wholeheartedly believe in as a part of my identity now as a teacher, and I am the performing arts educator there for the fourth year. Aside from that, I am a son, a rivalrous twin brother, a very passionate dancer, and a spicy product of two Mexican parents.
I would also like to say in a more professional sense when it comes to our children, I'm a storyteller, a space creator, and a mentor. I feel like my teaching has really always had a theme of mentorship in it whenever we are talking to our children. Besides that, I feel, as an educator, it's important for me to also share that I'm a program developer for a Latino youth male organization called Latino Youth Leadership, which works with underserving youth in Orange County, California.
Ebony Payne Brown, Guest:
Hi everybody, I'm Ebony Payne Brown. I am the founder and executive director of Peace Academy Charter School, which is a tuition-free public charter school in Atlanta, Georgia. I am originally from Philadelphia, so I'm a native Philadelphian. I currently live in Atlanta. Other characteristics, I'm a mother to a very brilliant and vibrant and opinionated seven-year-old. I am a partner, a sister, soon to be wife in three weeks. Thank you. I have been an educator for about 18 years and I am currently a member of the community that I am founding the school in.
Tony DelaRosa, Guest:
Hey y'all, I'm Tony DelaRosa. I go by he, they, and siya pronouns in Tagalog. First I'll start off with saying I'm a father, newly, of a toddler right now, who is living in Madison, Wisconsin, who is currently sick and I feel so bad being here. I'm also a husband, a son, and in terms of work, I am the author of a forthcoming book called Teaching the Invisible Race: Embodying a Pro-Asian American Lens in Schools with Jossey-Bass and Wiley Publishing, and a PhD student in the ed leadership and policy analysis studies at UW Madison, Wisconsin.
Word. I am just pleased to be up here with y'all. So, as we were saying, a school that is disconnected is just an empty building or impassive building, and so what we're proposing today is that the opposite of that is something like community-centered education. One in which community is not an obstacle, but is truly a part, a foundation, a set of assets upon which we build an education for our kids. So, to start the conversation, I want to invite you all to define for us what does community-centered education mean to you?
If I may, I like to see it as service learning that allows students to connect to the community and vice versa. I really do believe that this is a bridge that needs to be in every school, and that bridge could be flawed, it could have holes in it, and I think the trick is knowing where the holes are and having critical conversations with the right stakeholders, not just the one or two, to make sure that bridge is always intact, especially for students of color, students of refugee families, students with behavior issues. This bridge, I think, that every school should be having of connecting community to the classroom, which also bridges academics to civic learning identity, and needs to be intact, and I think it's always a healthy conscious conversation to have any day of the week at a school.
I would also build on that is it's a way to work with community members outside of the classroom. We talk about the school can just be a building, but community centered education or engagement looks at how are we working with community members outside of the classroom, outside of the instruction, and when possible, in those community organizations' authentic environment, right? Like when we can going to those organizations so children can have that external experience, not just in the classroom. I think it's a critical opponent of real world education. We think about a lot of schools who are inquiry-based modeled now, or have real world educational experiences, and you can't do that without working with community-based organizations, or you can, but it just will be a little wonky. So, it's like working with those organizations that are right there in that surrounding community.
You both summed it up pretty well.
I'll go a little more macro around the word community in and of itself, which begs the question of defining community. What is the purpose of community is how I think about this question, and then also in relation to school and education, because school and education, as we know, are different things. We know, I see some nods in the head, yes. So, community, if the purpose of community is to help us thrive, well, survive and thrive, where are we on that continuum in education, and in schools? Education helps us thrive. Especially I'm thinking about people of the global majority, students of the global majority, people of color, people of marginalized historically systematized, historically marginalized communities, and if we're not thinking about community in regards to having the function of people moving from survival to thriving, and what is the purpose right now, right? It's continuing to do a purpose of labor, and producing structural functionalism, to put people in the labor force essentially.
So, we have some definitions rolling out, but I really want to bring it into real life. What does it look like? Thinking about your time running school buildings, or at the front of classrooms, or your work in organizations now, what does community centered education look like to you? Give us... Paint a vivid picture, not a ideal, but the real thing that you see daily.
I love that I cannot the ideal, for me, because my school is opening this fall, so I am in the founding stages. So, part of this is a little bit of the ideal, but we're working with communities now as we even get this up and running, and so what this looks like when you think about bringing the community engagement into schools is, "Who are the partners that you are intentionally working with as you are developing the school?" There are many different organizations and many different companies that you can work with, but a part of that experiences is choosing people, intentionally, working with other people in your community.
For example, I'm saying one of our partners in the audience right now, [inaudible 00:09:18] Moore. We've intentionally worked with him to build our curriculum. There are many other organizations that could do the work, but to us it's, "Does this organization represent our mission and vision? Are they intentional about working with other schools like us? Are they from our community?" And the answer to all of those questions was yes, and so that's a big part of thinking about what community means to me. It's like working with people who I know are grounded in the same work that I'm doing.
If I may add to that, being a teacher, I'm doing a lot more of the groundwork and I really feel that community also, to me, at our school, is out mobilizing our families to believe in something that could take our children to the next step, and that is through so many different things. I'm really lucky to be at my school because programming for us is a very big deal. If you can't be in person because of couple of restrictions, best believe we're going to do it on Zoom, and we're going to always find a way. But, I'm very just very, very proud of how we do not limit our community learning to just the month of empowerment.
We are always understanding that there's a connection between every community of color, issue, and everything is intersectional. So, we always speak in a language of intersectionality when it comes to our community, and our Family Leadership planning council, I would say, it's the right arm of our school. It allows us to lift our students up, and our teachers, because we know that we're not alone. So, without a platform where families and especially parents have a voice, that community will, I believe, not reach its full potential.
So, earlier, Tony, you mentioned we can't have this conversation without defining what community is or even thinking about what the purpose of it is, and so before we go further, I would love for each of you to talk to us about your community. Help us understand your community. You come from three different cities, and who you're talking about when you talk about community, may be slightly different. What are the assets? We often have these conversations and we talk about community as an obstacle or set of barriers. So, what are the assets, the strengths, what's the magic of the communities in which you're talking about educating kids?
So, what characterized me as kind of nomadic in the fact that I lived in California, born and raised San Diego, California, I'm military brat from Camp Pendleton, it's a Marine Corp base, right? Moved when I was 11 to Cincinnati, moved to Indianapolis, moved to Boston, moved to Miami, now I'm in Madison. So, what does the community mean, right? I'm always redefining and defining that. I think I go now from the inner to out about my identity. So, I'm really trying to find it in those spaces where my Asian Americans at, where my Philippine Americans at, and I think about the core value of Isang Baksak, which means we fall and rise together, which comes from Delano... Actually comes from the anti martial law movement, and the Philippines brought to the US, and to Delano grape strike in the 1960s of labor organizing movements.
So, I try to find that everything, and I'm finding that core value in Ubuntu. I'm finding that core value in so many different places, not for us, without us, this cross racial coalitional community core value, and when I feel that inherently in systems and places where I'm at, I know the structure for community is ready to be built.
So, I think many of us are in multiple different communities, right? At any given time, we're in multiple different communities. The thing that stands out is when I really feel like I'm in community, I feel like I can be my complete self. I can kick my shoes off, I'm just going to talk how I'm going to talk. It's like it's you show up authentically, you don't worry about the judgment, and even if there are some people judging you, you know that you have other folks who are going to stand up for you, you just feel that sense of, "Okay, this is my place."
So, I can think of so many different places that embody that. When I think about the physical place, my school is in Decatur, folks from Decatur say, "Decatur, where it's greater?" But, it's just that place, it represents so, so much. But, to the students and to the families there, you go next door and you see auntie, you see grandma, you see the elders in the same houses that they raised their children in, or you go... So, we're actually in a strip mall. I go to the store next to me and they're like, "Okay, you coming here, cool. We got your back." It's just that sense of we want this community to still be thriving, we want it to be a place where our children are safe, and we still want it to be ours, and then so if there are people who are coming to really do that, we're going to protect it, and so I think those are the things that stand out to me about community and specifically the Peace community.
That's a great points, and to add to those points, I truly believe that our school should be a reflection, not spitting image, but a reflection of our community. I really do feel that our students should have a voice in making sure that their school looks like the community they live in, and if they need help with that, that's where we really need to dig deep and access people from the community, their parents, anyone, not just ourselves, not just through a book, and not just through a YouTube video. Really making sure students understand, not just us, what community means to them. So, conversations about community should always be happening, because communities are also changing and being challenged or silenced or marginalized, what have you. So, for me, I think community is also about what kids feel their community feels to them, and what it should look like to them, and how they want to better it.
I wonder if y'all noticed it when they start talking about their communities, how their energy raises and the speed that what you're talking, you know what I mean? It picks up, it's like the snowball. Unfortunately, for too many of our kids, it's almost like as they're crossing the threshold, they have to leave that, they got to put on that invisible coat rack. So, the followup question to that is, in your experience, what needs to be changed or rethought with regard to the relationship between schools and our kids' communities?
I can start. So, Peace Academy is the first charter school in Georgia that has an Afrocentric curriculum, and that was intentional for many reasons, but one, so many Black and brown students are in this cultural bubble when they go to school, they have to leave who they are at home. For many families, they choose to do that and send their child to a school to get a better education. "Better," in quotes, because there's trade offs to what better is. But, at peace, we are intentionally creating an environment where children don't have to step outside of their culture. We actually have a cultural studies course every day where students get to learn about their culture and other people's culture because there's beauty in all of our cultures, and so having that opportunity for students to engage in that way, I think it's significant.
Yeah, no, just before we even go further, you're talking about an Afrocentric school experience, right? So, for y'all that don't know me, outside of this podcast, I run an organization called The Liber Institute, L-I-B-E-R, like Liberation Freedom, and we work to embolden and equip indigenous young people, families and educators, to transform their schools. So, we talk a lot with folks who are starting immersion schools, Lakota language or whatever their tribal languages are, and we were having a meeting today, and one of my team members said, "You know? All schools are immersion schools. It's just what are they immersing our kids in?" So, when you're talking about building an Afrocentric school, right? Because folks looking, "Oh wow, that's special, that's different." If they're not going to your school, then they're going to a, what? A Euro-centric approach.
So, that's the decision we have to make about our schools. What are we immersing our kids in? What are we exposing them to? What are we rooting them in? What are the funds of knowledge, the funds of the resources, the values, the assets that we're rooting them in? So, yeah, what needs to change about the way schools and communities engage and relate?
I love how Ebony was bringing up the focus of Afrocentric, going deeply into the culture, defining what the culture is from the ground up, and starting a new from there. That's a re-imagination, that's stretching the imagine... We're battling an imagination gap right now, in education. That's a crises. So, I was just talking to Ebony saying that like, "Oh, this is dope for Black students." Like she was, "No, no, no, this is for white students too. This is for Asian students. This everyone is..." If we center and start off from the Black-centered curriculum, that's where we can start seeing change in outcomes across.
Where do we have spaces to be able to talk about our intersections of identity that is realistic. Schools right now are not realistic because we bring in multiple identities in every space we go into, and they're activated by the outside realm everywhere, and then seeing students as intellectuals, right? Right now, we don't have students on this panel, and I feel like we should, we don't have students at this conference, enough of them, maybe they are here, but they should be here, so that's another aspect of ethnic studies as a structure, as a framework to have us change and shift, right? The ecosystem, the ecology of school.
Just a little bit that on, and I know we've talked earlier, Ebony, about how it could be seen unfortunately as the vice of having an Afrocentric curriculum, but I can't wait for students that don't identify as African-American and they're from another community and how they're building cultural competency. So, when they go out to the world, they could defend that situation of that person in need, who's being marginalized, even if they're not from that community. Having a centered curriculum or at least having conversations about community and of color, with our children daily, it builds competency and in turn builds global citizens.
We don't want to come up too nationalistic and seeing that we're here as an island. No, we are a part of the world, and how are we continuing to challenge our students? Because let's face it, we are always here to be invested in the work of our students in their learning. But, as teachers, as practitioners, I need to check myself and find out what was a white paradigm complex that I was taught how to teach, or from my schooling, how is that informing my teaching without me realizing? So, as also practitioners of this field, we need to also make sure that we are not perpetuating, and I love the word that we use at our school, we see ourselves as abolitionist teachers. We have to make sure that it's not okay to tweak anymore. Reforms are great, but we have to understand that we need to clear things off the board and start fresh and then pull. That's what's been working a lot for our school and in my practice.
Can I just add on? When you asked the question, "What needs to change?" I think it's our connection to power and how we are intentionally sharing power with our communities, or not. So, what that looks like is how are we bringing not only students, but how are we bringing community members into the decisions that our schools are making, at the policy level, at the procedure level, at the instructional and curriculum level? Are we, as schools, being intentional about saying, "Actually, here's this curriculum we want to use. Come share your thoughts. What do you want your child to get from this experience?" Or, "What are you hoping even before we buy the curriculum or build the curriculum? What are you hoping that your child gets first?" And then we can go and find resources that match.
Having families and community members at the table with us is important, and it's important for us to intentionally set that time. Every month we have a parent engagement call where we say, "Here's a topic, families come tell us what you want, communities come and tell us what you want," so that we don't forget and get too busy, and that's something that we just forget to include.
It's crucial to engage the communities we're looking to impact. We cannot create change without activating the voices of those most affected by those changes. When it comes to community engagement, every voice matters. We'll continue our conversation from South by Southwest EDU, after a quick break. But first, we wanted to ensure you hear from students across the country who are being impacted by teachers who share aspects of their identities. Throughout the season, we've been lifting up the voices of students of color as they reflect on their experiences. Here are some words from Colin Coon, a high school student from Orlando, Florida.
Colin Poon, Student Voice Memo:
Hi, my name is Colin Coon, and I'm a public high school student from the Orlando area in Central Florida. I identify as Wasian American under the broadband of the API community, with my dad being Chinese American, while my mother is European American. As a student in a state and community with a very small Asian population, I've only ever had one API teacher in the classroom, who's my freshman bio teacher last school year. Having that one teacher, despite that short period of time that I had her, it was extremely important, as it was the first time that I ever remotely saw myself culturally similar to one of my teachers, considering my school's only 2% Asian, and being able to talk about many of those API events that we often went to in Central Florida, it was very important to just be able to talk about and culturally relate to each other on a personal level, and to be able to have that bond between each other.
Having her as a teacher forever changed me, as it opened my eyes to the possibilities of a career in education. As never before had I thought of the possibility of being a teacher, since I had never seen anybody like me being a teacher in my local community, having that API bio teacher and this experience helped me open my eyes to the things that I could be and achieve, and helped inspire me to start an Asian students association at my school, the first of its kind in my city, has allowed me to create a safe space for other Asian American students at my school, just like the one that we created between me and my bio teacher on a daily basis, just talking to each other, and just allowing ourselves to be able to be open about our identities and our culture.
Before the break, we spoke about activating the voices of the people. One of the ways we can do that for our students is through activating community engagement in the classroom. Here's Christopher Sandoval explaining how culturally responsive education can support student success through community engagement.
I feel, at the end of the day, when I'm looking at my lesson plan or my curriculum or my goals, my scope and sequence, I need to ask the question, "How is this transforming the cultural space of my students in my school? And how's that connecting with the outside?" So, for me, there's very small things I can do as a teacher on the ground level, when I think about a cultural space, or my school being a cultural space. So, I'm in small... I started doing it last year, was I started taking my speaker out for my dance studio, and I played it during arrival, and dismissal, and recess, and I started asking parents in the cars, "Hey, what request do you want?" "Students, what kind of music do you want?" Then I find the Kidz Bop version, and then I play it the next day.
Some things are questionable, but it's about just students feeling like they're at home. There's a sense of belonging. Yes, there's a difference, but that sense of belonging could start as small as just asking them what kind of music do you listen to? We're at the point now where students stop me in the hallway and they're like, "Mr. Sandoval, five, six, seven, eight..." And I have to model their dance move or something we did in the classroom, and if I lose, I owe them Kickboard points, or ClassDojo points. It's about just having them be in charge and in control of what their space feels like, and when those moments happen, I know that they are advocating and feeling that they're ambassadors for their school culture.
Besides my program at school, which I teach K through four dance, every student receives a dance education. I run a afterschool program for Mexican folk dance primarily. My students, about 50 of them this year, they all occur in the campus. So, we don't say that we are a different group or outside, we are an extension of the school. I think it's important for students to understand that when they are learning about their culture or engaging in something in the community, they can always take it back.
So, they need to see themselves as ambassadors of what they're doing, and when you are bridging, like I said earlier, school to community and community to school, students will want to seek leadership. It's all about seeking leadership for them and having that one job where they could spawn off into another one and then to a passion and then to a goal and what have you. But, I really feel that, for me, student success is based off of, in my dance programs, building self-confidence, which translates to presentation skills, building self-discipline, which translates to body positivity and healthy living skills. There's always a way to continue building our student skills from the classroom to the outside and personal lives. But, I'm going to pause there.
Okay, yeah. So, I have a lot of the same responses, but I think the thing that stands out to me when you think about student success is students need to feel confident in whatever they're doing, but when they have that confidence, they then are able to be more successful. A lot of our programs, we have inquiry-based models, at Peace, we have field experiences, and so every month we give students a question, we give them some resources to help them develop their own opinions about these questions, and then we give them an opportunity in a community-based organization to explore that question a little bit more.
When students are actually developing their own answers, when they're getting to work with community organizations, they get to see themselves in that field, they get to see themselves in that work. The end result is not a prescribed answer, it's, "Here is the question, you develop the answer." So, they're seeing themselves in the final product, and all of that is giving them the, "Okay, I'm the creator of this, my answers are right. I know a little bit about this concept and I learned it on my own in many ways," and that's the journey that students get to ride when they're exposed to culturally responsive education, and to community organizations that look like them, and where they can see, "I can actually do this too."
I want to get Tony back in here in a second. You said something earlier about school, and school not necessarily being the same thing as education, and it reminded me, I was on a plane about eight years ago, I was serving as a principal, and I sat next to this older woman and she asked, "What do you do?" And I said, "I'm a principal." And she's like, "Wow, you're a principal? That must be hard these days. Kids don't really like learning anymore." My son, who's now nine, he's going to be 10, he's like one at this point, and I'm like, "Well, I don't know about that." I said, "I have a one year old at home and he will put anything in his mouth if we weren't watching. He's trying to make sense of the world in the way he knows how." Kids love learning, they hate school. So, I want to ask you, Tony, about that. Where did your journey to reimagine schooling begin? Was there a defining moment or was this an evolutionary process?
Yeah, I learned a lot about education and the separation between school and education in spoken word Cafes. So, there's this joint called [inaudible 00:28:54], this is a spoken word hiphop cafe venue, and my homie, Rome... I forget his last name, but Rome will put me on in the mic, and it was the first time my getting exposure to that scene, and I was learning so much about what I wasn't learning in school, in class. I was an Asian studies major, not knowing what I was going to do, not Asian American studies, Asian studies. So, I knew everything about international Asia, but not my home place, and how Asian Americans were being impacted. But, I learned a lot about Asian America within the spoken word cafes, and about myself reflected into that.
So, that tells you a lot about what education was happening. I know my sense of engagement, you see the body, it's very somatic. So, you start to see your body keep that memory of that education, the cadence of spoken word, the criticality around the words itself, the people engaging with you after the mic, during the mic, the ah-ha, the mm-hmms, every that, everything about that is education, and people undermine that.
Dr. Christopher Emdin always talks about, "Don't underestimate the mm-hmm inside a spoken word venue because that's that connection piece, that they're making a critical psychedelic emotional connection with you, and that's what's missing, that emotional intelligence in the school." That's where I see students that I've taught, teachers that I've coached, principals that I've coached, thrive, where they're like, "Yo, I can feel myself in this. You back to authenticity, right?" I can see my authenticity reflected in this somehow. I feel it first, and then I can identify it. Because you got to go back to the ancestral wisdom, y'all. It lives in the body.
Christopher, I'm going to ask that same question. Where did your journey to reimagine schooling begin? Was there an inflection point or was it more of a gradual?
Very gradual. I had the opportunity to teach Teach for America in South Texas, then I went to the Bay with KIPP Bay Area schools, and then now KIPP SoCal Schools in LA. But, I was able to find patterns of how schools who all my schools I have served in. On paper, you could say a school serves 99.9 Latino students. But, are they really serving the students? I mean, I'm not talking about cafeteria food, and maybe a concha on a tamal on Fridays, I'm talking about how are kids serving each other their own stories, how are their stories being reflected in what their learning is?
We could just leave it to project-based learning on Friday, but I feel like when you talk about that Tony, about spoken word and all the amazing intricacies and nuances, a quiet classroom is a sick classroom, all our students need to be talking, actively, actively processing, because as they're processing, they are becoming who they are, and so this pattern I've seen in some schools, or perhaps, in some teachers or departments, have been unfortunately a colonial way of making sure students are listening and following a model, and now the students I've noticed who have not been as successful have been my boys. My boys have had it the worst in terms of following that model of, "Quiet, sit up straight, and don't talk. Put your hands in your lap." It that starts there. Man, and we learned that in kindergarten. I see a pattern of apathy in our children and disconnect from what's in the classroom, what's happening outside.
So, when I think about how I am doing my best to find these patterns, I really do my best to always constantly ask myself the question, "What am I doing today that builds off of yesterday and empowers a kid today?" I really do my best to understand that. There's no perfect school, there's no perfect charter, no perfect public school, no perfect private school, but there is what you do today, and so for me, bridging that gap is a daily, daily struggle, and also a daily opportunity.
Ebony, I want to bring you back in. You have a really, really cool job before you. One that I'm somewhat familiar with as a former high school founder and designer. When we think about shifting culture, oftentimes we're thinking about something that's already there, like the incoming new leader trying to rehabilitate something. But, there's something special about when you're building a new school because there is a culture of learning and education and relationships with schooling that already preexists your school, and what's challenging or maybe a little different is it's not a unified experience because they're coming in from all their different places, and I wonder, how are you thinking about shifting culture, to ensure that the school you build, as opposed to maybe places that families have experience from before, ensuring that your school is reflective of and inviting to an engaged community?
So, I think, as a school founder, I had the privilege of going blue sky, like, "I can have anything in the world. What do I want to be true?" I think that's definitely been a gift, but then also there's a part of me that's like, "But, I don't know this." Or, "I don't know that." Or, "I don't really have the money over here." So, I think a part of, before I even get this to the students part, but even the design part of part of shifting the culture and the mindset is thinking about, one, "What's the biggest problem that you think you're trying to solve?" Especially the part that, "What do you have the passion to solve within that problem?"
Then finding resources and partners, particularly those within the community, to help you solve that. Not trying to do it alone, but finding other people who are aligned who can help you solve that problem. It alleviates the, "I don't have the resources yet." The resources are going to come. When you're doing the work you're supposed to be doing, and then when you connect yourself to other people who are also helping you do the work, the resources are going to come. But, finding that village, that community to help you do the work, is one.
The other thing that, I would say, is being extremely intentional about everything and the alignment and the connection to each other. When I think about when I have a great idea, yes, I have that great idea, and then I actually have to break down the steps. So, "How is this going to get from my head to the classroom?" And not skipping a step from my head, to the board, to the staff members, to the parents, to the families, to the students. I think, shifting culture so often, we're like, "Oh, we know this is the problem. Here's a solution. Go, everybody do it, it's going to be great." Then you're like, "Yeah, but you're actually leaving out a whole group of people, and so making sure you have those steps.
Then I think that the third thing that, for me, has been important along this journey is, "How am I including the families along with us?" So, I mentioned that we have an Afrocentric curriculum. Many of our families hear that and they're like, "What does that mean? I don't know. What are you going to be doing?" So, a big part of that is how are we working with families to help them understand what are we doing in class? Everybody who has a child has heard the jokes of like, "Common core math? I can't help my child with that. I'm one of those people." I'm like, "This is going to be a little rocky."
But, it's like, "How are we providing the opportunities for families to really understand what's happening in your environment?" So that it's a complete experience for students. They're not coming to school and getting something totally different, or they're not coming into our educational environment and getting something that their parents can't help us with. Or, "Our parents are not at the table helping us learn how are they coming to school," and children are not getting experience that we need help with.
So, I think those three things. One, thinking about what is your passion and your purpose? Two, finding resources that align to those that can help you do the work so you don't have to be the end all, be all. Three, making sure you're identifying how is this getting through the entire pipeline to make that change. Four, how are you making sure that everybody who interacts with that child has the same ideas and the same abilities to work this magic?
So, Tony, how do we shift culture in a curriculum? Or, how do we shift culture in a school to be reflective of inviting in an engaged community?
I mean, first shout out to Ebony, you just operationalized culture in three, four steps, in literally two minutes, three minutes. So, that was huge. I was just in awe the entire time. Right now, my lived truth, my magic right now is mostly around ethnic studies. If anything, you'll learn from me today is about ethnic studies, policy, structure, and practice. So, I will always reiterate the fact that people are not centering around that, ethnic studies. We need to start off from the ground up, from the curriculum. So, I would argue that shifting it is taking ethnic studies, and not just seeing it as curriculum, but seeing it where you can actually embed it in your structures, your systems and policies.
So, I would take one example. Isang Bagsak, I talked about that earlier, right? You want to operationalize it, let's do it. Isang Bagsak can break down, I think about it, into multi-partiality. Multi-partiality, what does that mean? Multi-partiality means having multiple perspectives. So, you think about Isang Bagsak as a culture, right? Underneath that, Isang Bagsak is Multi-partiality, holding multiple truths at the same time, but also privileging and focusing on the most marginalized groups in your building, operationalized right there.
That's the core value in every meeting you have, including families, including students in decision making, multi-partiality, right? Thinking about cross racial coalition building. Cross racial coalition building in your curriculum, in your meetings. Thinking about all these months, we just got out of Black history month, right? Wrong, right? It's Black history month every day, right? Disrupt that, celebrate Black identity every day, right? Asian Americans. Asian American history is happening every month. I hope you know, it's happening and it hasn't ended, right? Multi-partiality, cross racial solidarity, those are two operational things that you can bring into your building.
All right, y'all. I want to invite y'all. We're talking about community, community, community. We got all this community here and I want to get y'all involved. Come on up, come on up, let's get a few questions out. We'll get them out and then y'all could choose which ones you want to answer, but no soliloquies, even though we got a mic now. Same rules apply. Same rules apply.
Hey y'all, I'm Kiana. I'm director of social at Teach for America. So, I've briefly worked with you all or amplified your work in some way. Y'all are brilliant-
... I'm so happy to be here. What would you say is one of the most pressing issues in education that people aren't talking about enough?
That's a good question. Black girls. For every reason you said already, it's important to think about our Black and brown boys, and the ways that we criminalize them, and we adultify them, and they're so threatening, and we punitively discipline them. But, low-key, a lot of that same stuff has happened to our Black girls. We don't have to pick winners and losers and partition our energy and we only have enough energy for Black boys. We need to think about our Black girls as well. I think the reason that's so important is because, for so many of us, culturally, women hold such an important role in our communities and our families as well, and we know that all the way to whether we're talking about education or we're going into economics. Grameen Bank, when they're investing in communities with microloans, they realize, "If we invest in women, we're investing in families." So, we invest in our girls, we're investing in families, we're investing in communities. So, I think, low-key, that's one of the many things that we're not talking about enough.
I'll keep it short. From the work I've been doing, I could stand behind the statement. Male mental health in our schools. Boys, we need to be honest, we have to look at how shootings and gender are connected, and we have to look at everything around that, and we all know on the news, it's one thing or another, it's always agenda and narrative-based, but they're the ones talking about on the news, and communities are getting scared or what have you. But, in the classroom, that's where magic is happening or not happening. What are we perpetuating? I think we're perpetuating the lack of conversation about vulnerability, and not just saying, "I could talk about my feelings," but emotional intelligence. We need to be encouraging our boys to be emotionally intelligent as much as athletically intelligent.
I would say how the lack of instructional engagement and the lack of dynamic just instruction period is leading to the increase in special education, diagnosis for our children. Yeah, I think so oftentimes students are diagnosed with different labels, not because they have those labels, but because the classroom is boring or the teacher doesn't understand how to culturally engage with their students, and so then the child does what children do and then it results in, "Now we have a whole case of a lot of things that are untrue and unnecessary."
Y'all know what I'm going to say. Ethnic studies. Ethnic studies. But, I want to share something that I'm kind of geeking out about right now in research, and right now, if you're anyone following the Asian American coalitions fighting for ethnic studies policy, it is happening is a tidal wave right now, happening all across, starting with the Teach Act in Illinois, move all the way to Connecticut, New Jersey. People are adopting Asian American ethnic studies policy, which is mandating it in districts and states to teach it, which is dope. I love it. I'm about it. But then, if we as a Asian American coalition, or whoever that coalition is, is not being loud about African American history, then something's wrong there. That is not, yep, that's not doing us justice, that is not collective liberation.
To me, that is a travesty because I've been told by these coalitions not to talk about that, we only talk about Asian American issues. Now, we were born out of the Black Power movement. We were born out of Black civil rights movement. So, we have to give our due diligence and our duty for collective liberation and honor our ancestors.
Maybe one more question. We got five minutes, so I can take one more question and then we got the lightning round. I got the magic wand question, so don't judge.
Hi y'all. My name is Joan. I currently live in New Orleans. There's a lot of teacher turnover and a lot of transplants in New Orleans, and what does community engagement look like when you are a gentrifier in the area that you're teaching in?
So, as a non-native person educating kids in native schools, it's something. But, as a Black person, this is something that I've had conversations about a lot because I know what it's like to have someone come and tell my community, and tell us things like, "Well, I'm only here because nobody in the community is prepared to do this," and be like... So, very thoughtful about, "So, how do I become a co-conspirator, and not a, 'ally?'" In Lakota culture, in Lakota language is a term, it relates to the term you're using, it's called Mitákuye Oyás'iŋ. We are all related. I think that if you are finding yourself in the position of being a gentrifier, or the non whatever, the question you have to ask yourself is, "How do I show up a relative? If these really were my kids. Right? Because we do that only-
My kids, my kids, I don't think if we can think my kids.
But, then you go and you take a left out of the school and everybody else goes right. So, what if they really were your kids, if they really were your relatives, what if the parents of your kids, or your cousins, your brothers and sisters, what do you want for those kids? What do you want for your kids? Not so much that you get to dictate or tell families, "Well, I want my kids to go to college, so all these kids have to go." But, the same level of autonomy and sovereignty and freedom to make decisions for their kids, I want that for all children, and so what does that look like?
It's a lot of getting out of the school building and into community, meeting people at libraries, meeting people at cafes, meeting people at places of work, coming with a translator if you need to so that people can speak in the language that they're comfortable and not the one that you are, and committing to this as a journey, a lifelong journey and not a, "It's end of August, school's about to start, so let's talk to families, and not talk to them again until conferences." I think it's that, all that, and then some, and so much more, and constantly being willing to have people in your corner, in your kitchen cabinet, who can check you if you're not doing that.
I would also add just one other thing is how are you speaking to the children in that community? Are you encouraging them to go to school, leave the community, to be great? Because that is going to perpetuate your cycle, and so it was, yes, do all the things you want to do, but you don't have to leave to be great. You can be great here, and you can explore the world if you want, but there are multiple options, not the one narrative that you have to leave this environment to be who you are going to be.
If I may just quickly. Going to Texas, going to the Bay, just because they're part of predominantly Latino schools, doesn't mean I was accepted right away. I was a kid from LA, in Texas. I wore TOMS, they wore boots, and dead serious, and that right there was a conversation. So, I was a listener before I was a talker, and my theme everyday was about cultural exchanges, and we learned that there's pluralism in our community as relatives, and also in the community of color. There's not just one experience.
So, all season we've been asking everybody the magic wand question, and to order to go from the school systems that we have, to one that is community-centric, we know that it's not one thing. But, I'm going to ask you to pretend anyway. You have a magic wand, you can wave, and you can do one thing to make our schools more community-centric, and the Aladdin rule applies, no wishing for more wishes. What's that one thing? Really quick. We'll start at the end and come back over here.
Funding for ethnic studies in every school. Independent, public, private, everywhere.
Mandated meditation morning program in every school, as well as a multidisciplinary arts program in every school.
Put your children in that school, and then you'll do whatever needs to be done to get it to where you need to have it.
It goes without saying that we cannot talk about shifting culture without talking about power. Who holds the power to create change? Power can be defined in many ways, and it's normal to think of it from a positional perspective. For example, we often think of someone in power as someone with a lot of money or political influence. But, from an organizing perspective, people are a form of power. Power comes from the same root as the Spanish word poder, meaning the ability to act. All of our parents, our families, and our students, have the ability to act. So, our role as educators is to figure out how to activate that power. We do that by rallying our communities around the issues that matter most to them, and there's no issue that matters more to families than their kids. We all have the power to create the change we want to see in our classrooms. It all starts right here in our communities.
We hope you enjoyed the special round table discussion from South by Southwest EDU. It's been our pleasure to profile the incredible work of educators, blazing new trails and creating the change we all want to see in education. Thank you so much for listening and learning alongside us. By now, you know the deal. If you love the podcast, be sure to rate, review, and follow Changing Course on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast.
Changing Course is produced by Teach for America's One Day studio, in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to the man, the myth and the legend, Michael Cress, Georgia Davis, Stephanie Garcia, and Akande Simons from Teach for America. The production team at Pod People, Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado. The best producer on Earth, Bryan Rivers, Danielle Roth. The tag team, champions of the world, Chris Jacobs and [inaudible 00:50:16] and Carter Wogahn.
This special episode of Changing Course is produced by The Collective Teach for America's association for BIPOC alumni. Priya Patel, Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz, and the One Day studio video team. Shout out to the South by Southwest EDU team who helped produce this live episode, Kayla Meyers, Dionte McClendon, and Megan Stark. Extra special thanks to KeAsia Norman, whose original insight about school buildings and communities inspired us to ask these questions. Thanks also to the homie, Norledia Moody, for support on the panel discussion. Last but certainly not least, thank you to Colin Coon, and the educators who shared their time and experience to help us make this episode. Christopher Sandoval, Tony DelaRosa, and Ebony Payne Brown. I'm Jonathan Santos Silva. Peace.
*Theme Music Out*
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About The Show
Host Jonathan Santos Silva (South Dakota ‘10) will sit down with innovative nonprofits from across the country that are committed to attracting, training, and retaining BIPOC educators. Each episode will feature thoughtful conversations about how organizations are investing in and providing careers where BIPOC staff can flourish.
Jonathan Santos Silva (South Dakota ‘10)
Jonathan Santos Silva is the Founding Executive Director of The Liber Institute and creator and host of The Bored of Ed, a podcast that amplifies the voices of inspiring BIPOC educators who are changing the face of education. He has provided technical support to South Dakota’s Native American Achievement Schools and has served as a school founder and principal, instructional coach, and education consultant.
Tony DelaRosa (Indianapolis ‘12), Educator, Writer, and Thought Leader
Tony (he/siya) is an award-winning and proud Filipino American Anti-Bias & Anti-Racist Educator, Executive Leadership Coach, Motivational Speaker, Spoken Word Poet, Racial Equity Strategist, and Writer. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Education Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin Madison as a Education Graduate Research Scholar. After serving in the corps, Tony became Director of Leadership Development at Teach For America coaching teachers and leading DEI strategy.
Ebony Payne Brown (Atlanta ‘06), Founder and Executive Director at PEACE Academy Charter
Ebony has been in education for over 15 years. She started her career at the University of Delaware where she studied Early Childhood Development and Education, then joined the 2006 Metro Atlanta Teach For America Corps and taught for five years in Atlanta Public Schools. In 2008, she obtained her Masters of Art in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently the visionary founder of PEACE Academy Charter, one of the first public schools in Georgia with an Afrocentric curriculum.
Christopher Sandoval (RGV ‘14), Performing Arts Teacher & Department Head at Kipp Comienza Community Prep
Christopher is the Performing Arts Teacher and Specials Department Lead at KIPP Comienza Community Prep in Los Angeles, CA. After his graduate studies at the California State University, Fullerton, he served in McAllen, TX (TFA Alumni RGV '14), in Redwood City, CA with KIPP Bay Area Schools, and currently working within KIPP SoCal Schools. He holds the utmost gratitude for the amazing mentors, many from Teach For America, who helped him bridge his passions into his work as a school teacher. Moreover, these mentors and various school communities have helped him mold a strong and empowering classroom vision for cultural competence, social justice, movement, and high achievement - leading to his attainment of the "Teacher of the Year" Award for KIPP SoCal Schools in 2022.
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