Watch the 4 Films Screening at the School Leaders of Color Conference
Be inspired by the work and stories of alumni and catch them speaking with attendees in SLOC’s “Conversation Corners.”
The School Leaders of Color Conference is hosted by the Collective at Teach For America with the goal to provide BIPOC school and systems leaders professional development and the opportunity to find inspiration and connect with one another in a space not found elsewhere in the educational ecosystem.
This year, four One Day videos will be screened throughout the event. Attendees will also have the chance to talk to the featured alumni during SLOC’s “Conversation Corners,” unscripted spaces where attendees can meet with leaders in their network to ask questions and build connections.
Watch the videos and meet the featured alumni:
The Bridge to Reinvention
Reinvention Lab founder Michelle Culver presents a theory of change for education which is inspired by examples of innovative, culturally responsive and industry-oriented teaching and school leadership.
Erin Whalen (Miami-Dade, ‘12)
Founder & Executive Director of Da Vinci Rise
These are symptoms of something deeper. The real problem is that our education system was developed over 100 years ago and is simply not designed to give young people what they need to thrive today.
In the Reinvention Lab, we fuel the future of learning by deeply understanding, amplifying, and designing based on the innovative bright spots that already happening in our communities. We’re asking ourselves, “How we, as educators, can meet the needs of young people today, while simultaneously designing an entirely new system?”
We’re facing a design problem, so why not seek design solutions?
I’m inspired by the story of the Bay Bridge. When it was built in the 1930’s it was an engineering feat. But within decades, it was widely understood that it no longer met modern safety standards. Then, in 1989, an earthquake caused a portion of the bridge to collapse. Now there was a choice: repair the old bridge, or build a new one. At the time, 400,000 people a day depended on the Bay Bridge. They couldn’t just shut it down while they built a replacement. So they did both. After repairing the damage, engineers were charged with building an entirely new bridge alongside the old one. Then traffic was shifted, section by section, from the old bridge, to the new.
In education, the ground has been shaking under us for decades. Coming out of the pandemic, most of our creative time, energy, resources is still going towards fixing the old system - the old bridge. Yet this might be our one chance to build something radically different. Something that can actually adapt to our young people’s evolving needs. It doesn't have to be either-or. Let’s do both!
The blueprint for the new bridge? It’s already being drafted. Educators are asking themselves: How might young people be best prepared to thrive in and to actively shape this rapidly changing world?
This is Noah Fortson, he’s showing ways that learning extends beyond the four walls of the classroom. Students collaborate to create media projects with and for their community.
Noah: I told them, this is not a class that’s about grades, this is going to be a class that’s going to be about telling stories of people in your community, telling your own stories and really kind of using the tools that we have as an A/V class to maximize the potential of our community.
Michelle: Ebony Payne Brown is founding a school that centers the whole child by implementing an Afro-centric curriculum, restorative justice model and deep collaboration with parents and community members.
Ebony: As they engage in this curriculum, not only will they learn about themselves, but they will get a different picture of what it means to be Black in America.
Michelle: Here at Da Vinci Schools, students are offered the chance to pursue career pathways and to specialize in subjects they’re passionate about so they graduate high school prepared to lead in the industries that shape our world.
Erin: So we at the Da Vinci school are un-siloing the classroom from the world around it and really looking at relevant kind of realistic project-based learning, all fueled by what is the industry asking for today and what may be thinking about tomorrow.
Michelle: At Da Vinci RISE High School, executive director Erin Whalen extends that model to youth who have been traditionally written out of these opportunities.
Erin: RISE is built upon the idea of building from the margins. We focus our design process around youth who are in the foster care system, have experienced housing instability, and/or have been in the juvenile justice system.
Michelle: So what’s exciting about this is that there are so many educators, innovators, and leaders who are already answering these questions in different ways alongside students and communities.
I think the question for all of us in education is: how do we work on both bridges? We need everyone. We need people working to repair the current system, and we need more people willing to join in the work of reinventing education, to build that new bridge alongside the old. So that when it’s built, we can finally have the deeply relevant, liberatory, joy-filled education system that every young person deserves.
Starting an Afrocentric School
Teach For America alum Ebony Payne Brown (Metro Atlanta ’06) is the founder and leader of PEACE Academy charter school, which is slated to open in southeast Atlanta in 2023. The school will have an Afrocentric focus and tie in field trips to help broaden student perspectives. Payne Brown envisions PEACE as a place where students’ identities will be honored, their minds will be nurtured through rigorous instruction, and their eyes will be opened to their local community, their unique places within it, and their power to shape change.
Ebony Payne Brown
Founder & Executive Director, PEACE Charter Academy
Teacher 1: When I first met her, I just knew that she had a vision. I said, this should have happened a long time ago. You know this is something that our Black children need. I've been a teacher for 13 years now, and it's not in the curriculum at all. It's something that the school system is not doing, and you have to address the whole child in order to be successful.
Teacher 2: I wish the PEACE [Academy] had been around when my kids were coming up. I'm moving all over metro Atlanta, trying to put them in the best schools. My son definitely could have benefited from a PEACE [Academy].
Ebony: What brought you to this point in your career and wanting to apply?
Interviewee: A lot of the reason I've been speaking different opportunities is because of the, the difficulties I've been facing as a queer person.
Interviewee: It doesn't. Not feeling as safe as I would like to feel in my place of employment.
Ebony: When we say that we are making sure that we honor our students' identities that is inclusive of all of the identities that they bring into the school. One of my favorite quotes is If you're here to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you're here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let's work together. And so neither one of us can achieve, you know, the vision we're all in at achieving it.
Interviewee: So, you know, even if I don't make it all the way to the end. I just want to say that I love what you're doing. And I think that this is a school that's really needed. So I just want to throw that out there. But you're doing an amazing job.
Ebony: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I deeply appreciate that. Everyone I talk to, when I tell them the mission and vision of PEACE [Academy], they express this is what we needed. This is what I wanted for my child, when my child entered school. Now they're 17. But I wish this school was around.
Ebony [at home]: Good morning. Good morning, Kingston. It’s time to get up.
Kingston: I am loved.
Ebony: I am loved.
Kingston: I am strong.
Ebony: I am strong.
Kingston: I am smart.
Ebony: I am smart.
Kingston: I am beautiful inside and out.
Ebony: I am beautiful inside and out.
Kingston: God made me in his image.
Ebony: God made me in his image.
Kingston: And I could do anything aligned to my purpose.
Ebony: And I could do anything aligned to my purpose.
Ebony: Kingston Brown is a thriving six-year-old. He currently goes to a neighborhood charter school, and he will be attending PEACE Academy.
Let me see. Okay, you look like a snack! You look like a snack.
Kingston: And please don't eat me.
Ebony: When I think about the possibilities of what PEACE will provide for all of its students, that is 100 percent what I wanted for my son. Make sure you get your watch and your wallet. Okay?
Aisha: I just made Kingston's lunch. Now, I'm actually making lunch for Ebony because she'll be out today. She doesn't eat a lot because she's literally doing a million things, a million calls. And so oftentimes I'll make her something just so she can snack, so she can just keep going for the day.
Ebony: Thank you for making my lunch.
Aisha: You’re welcome.
I like to think of my role as supporting you, just, you know, making sure that she has everything she needs, always checking in, even if it's just a hug. Cause some days are harder than others. And, you know, also just being a platform for her to troubleshoot or brainstorm some different ideas from my perspective.
I’m setting your book bag here and told at the front door.
Ebony: I wanted my son to excel academically. I want him to be affirmed in his Blackness. I wanted him to experience joy. And I want him to say, I love going to school.
Are you gonna have a good day at school today?
Ebony: You going to be a leader?
[Kingston singing]: "I'm a strong one. I'm not nervous. I'm as tough as the crust of the earth is. I move mountains. I moved churches, And I glow because I know I'm worth it.”
Ebony: You know, I'm proud of you, right?
Ebony: Why am I proud of you? You're one of the best little human beings I know.
Southeast Atlanta is a very diverse community. It’s a rich community. We want this to be a community school. We have our community members, our board members, our families leading the way for so much of the work. We want to make sure that the community feels like this is theirs. And that it is an asset to the community. We're opening this August. Black-led school. Tuition-free public charter school and we are enrolling grades K through third grade this year. Problem-based learning. We are also specializing in cultural immersion. And I'll probably be over there the next two or three weeks to introduce myself and the team. We'll be here this August. Thank you. Nice to meet you. Have a good one.
So we are in front of PEACE Academy. This is the plaza that we're in. 1954 Candler Road. Phase one renovation will kind of stop right where that panel is and go back. Phase two will be the additional 22,000 square feet and that will get us through our full renovation.
So, Hank, what do we expect when we go in?
Hank: So you're going to see a lot of new walls going up, a lot of electrical and HVAC over your heads. You’re gonna see plumbing lines.
Ebony: I've been a part of every decision with the renovation. I've been a part of every conversation to get the lease and just to be in a space where we will open these doors and it's from conception. It's powerful.
Hank: You walk in. This is a big open space right here where everybody will come in. And that's our main doors into your school.
Ebony: This is pretty big as well for... this is a wellness room. So breastfeeding. You just need to be alone. This'll be just one person area.
Hank: Your office is over here.
Ebony: Okay. So this is my office. Okay.
This building is designed to set up our students for success. We deeply believe in making sure that our students feel loved and cared for, and that they feel like they can be themselves within the building.
I think you can. You could do anything you put your mind to.
Thinking about the journey to getting here, I, I'm brought to tears because of how hard it has taken to get here, and how much work every member of our team has done to get us to this point. Just so many people who have been a part of getting our facility open and in place for our babies to walk through is just powerful.
My theory of leadership is that I can impact education through creating a school like PEACE [Academy] that affirms every child, that provides rigorous academics, and that helps every student have a holistic understanding of the world and their impact in it.
When Spirits Dance
For performing arts teacher Christopher Sandoval (Rio Grande Valley 2014), teaching Day of the Dead is not only about cultural identity, but also an opportunity to foster civic engagement in his students. “We’re here,” he says, “to open minds in our classroom through culturally responsive teaching, so our children could walk out being more successful and more responsible citizens of this country and of their community.”
Christopher Sandoval (Rio Grande Valley, ‘14)
Performing Arts Teacher
KIPP Comienza Community Prep Charter School
We should let them go. Thank you.
Good morning! I love you everything! ¡Feliz día de los muertos! Hi! Good morning. Buenos dias. Good morning. How are you?
Don’t you love how today is actually Day of the Dead? There’s this whole ‘ambiente’ here. I love it.
So I am painting a flower around your eye. Can you put your hand right here? And pick up your hair? Thank you. Awesome. Do you like it?
You look so great. So I’m using my face paint to look like a skull or calavera, not to be sad or scared, but to be happy that my grandma is coming back to life today. Her spirit is coming to spend time with me. Can you think of someone?
Do you know who you could be thinking about? Is there someone in your family that’s not with you no more?
My mom’s dad died.
Your mom’s dad died. Your grandpa?
Christopher: So let’s think about grandpa today. Ok? Ok. Give me foot bump. I’ll see you later. Buh-bye.
Have a good day.
My name is Christopher Sandoval. My mother, who was a second-generation Mexican-American, decided to have my twin brother and I, my twin brother and I join a Folklorico class, a Mexican folk recreational class.
When I was younger, I never paid attention to why. But I understand that now. My mother really wanted to make sure that she was in a way fighting for those small opportunities to make sure that culture was preserved in myself and my brother.
Later on, as I really perfected my skills and started to grow for it and build bonds with my teammates. I understood that there was a sense of belonging.
Good morning, Mr. Sandoval.
We’re looking for friends who are ready to learn, friends who are ready to celebrate Día de los muertos. Can you say, “día de los muertos?”
Día de los muertos.
November first we celebrate, usually, the spirits of children who have died. Today, November second, we celebrate adults or spirits of adults that have died and are coming back to visit when we make an ofrenda for them. Our ofrenda is an offering to the people we want to honor who are not here no more.
This is George Floyd, and we are going to dedicate our altar to George Floyd. And we are going to always remember that we believe in the words, Black Lives Matter because we know that George Floyd’s life matters. Can I show the next person we are going to dedicate our altar to?
OK, look over here. Everybody, can we say Felipe Gomez Alonzo?
Felipe Gomez Alonzo.
Can we say Carlos Hernandez?
Can we say Jakelin Maquin?
So we want to honor them and other immigrants who crossed and get treated unfairly or unsafely because they want to come for a better life. Everyone look over here on the screen. Our new dance, “La Viejada” is an old dance. It’s been danced for a long time and when we dance this song, we are thinking about the person or the pet that we are honoring in Day of the Dead. Ready? Give me a thumbs up when you know that person. Stand up. The name of our song is called, La Viejada.
1, 2, 3 and clap!
Turn around and clap.
Say, “woo!” Look how strong you are, you get two points for ganas. Remind me.
When I'm teaching dance, I feel like I'm able to give back what people have taught me. I am able to pour into my students what was poured into me.
I’m looking for counters, here we go!
And that was years of confidence, of inclusivity, of traditions, of stories. If we can transmit that through other people, especially our students now during this COVID pandemic, it can really carry them and motivate them and give them momentum to feel that they can believe in themselves.
2,3, 4, good job Jaden, 6, 7, take a bow! Take a bow.
We want our students to understand that there is a really special opportunity during Day of the Dead, to find healing, to find strength in this cultural tradition. When we learn how to, as teachers, find opportunities for our students to value themselves in the curriculum, to value themselves here at school. They're going to be making such a bigger difference and impact on their lives.
Who’s ready to learn? I want to bring the person today to life as I’m dancing, that’s why I wore, I painted a skull, and you’re going to paint one on here. Got it, got it?
Got it, got it.
So when I dance, I bring my grandma to life on Day of the Dead. When you’re dancing with your mask after you’re done, if you’re ready to do it, you’ll bring that person to life too today. And they’ll be with you, in your heart. Got it, got it?
Got it, got it.
We have 30 more seconds to only color our eyes.
My name is Maddie and I'm six years old and I'm in the first grade. I like going to Mr. Sandoval’s class. In class we’re painting a calavera mask.
When I say go you’re going to share with your partner a story about the person or a pet you’re going to honor today. Are we ready? Can everybody tap your calavera and say think, think, think.
Think, think, think.
Well my story is because I did stuff with her because I slept over with my grandma. She, but, she died from cancer.
I’m glad I never had cancer.
Yeah. At first, I thought it was just corona because she died in corona.
Everybody, have a great day. See you tomorrow. Bye.
The dance I’m learning in Mr. Sandoval’s class is “Calaverita”.
In a way it's kind of forcing us as well to kind of touch back with our roots. There's so much to learn from our Mexican culture and for them to lose out on that, and it would be a shame if we didn't pass that on to them.
Look guys, I found more pictures.
Alright, careful, ok. Careful with the flowers.
For day of the dead, my family likes to set up an altar for the ‘ofrenda’. You put their favorite food and their favorite drink. The Day of the Dead is not the same as Halloween. The Day of the Dead is when you celebrate and honor the ones that are not in your family anymore, anymore. And on Halloween, you just get candy.
Why is the candle here?
To light their way, so they know where they’re going.
In the dark.
What are the flowers called? Does anybody know what the flowers are called?
No. Umm, marigolds?
In English. In Spanish?
Doesn’t it sound more cool, the name in Spanish?
Who I’m honoring is my grandma, Nancy. She died from cancer. I’m honoring by dancing for her.
You feel good! You should feel very proud. Say, “I am proud of me.”
I am proud of me!
I feel very honored and also very, very proud to be able to have the opportunity to pass something forward to allow students to make a decision for themselves that later forges their identity a little stronger at the end of the day.
Someone that I had died from my family is my grandma.
And how are you going to remember your grandma? What can you make for her?
Give him two claps and a whoosh.
Clap, clap, whoosh!
Nice and big!
We are teaching subcultures. We're teaching and opening doors to new experiences. We're here to open minds and we're here to allow for different experiences to happen in our classroom through culturally responsive teaching, so our children could walk out being more successful and more responsible citizens of this country, of their community.
Blood, Sweat, & Sparkles: The Young Activists Guide to Ending Period Poverty
In this short animated film, two members of ‘Ilima Intermediate School’s Activist Club, Riez and Alana, recount how a group of middle school students and their teacher, TFA Alumna Sarah "Mili" Milianta-Laffin (Houston ’06) came together to end period poverty in schools across the state of Hawaii.
Damaris Pareda (D.C., ’09)
National Programs Director
Alana: She spent her life advocating for Hawaiian rights and culture. And she was the inspiration behind our own advocacy work.
Riez: So, I’m Riez.
Alana: And I’m Alana.
Riez: We both go to ‘Ilima Intermediate School.
Alana: This is our teacher.
Mili: Aloha! My students call me Mili.
Reiz: Ms. Mili teaches STEM Lab and advises two student-led after-school clubs.
Group: Sparkle fingers!
Alana: And this is Paddy the Pad.
Riez: And together we set out to fight for the health and safety of students in our schools. And we’re here to tell you our story.
[Alana] STEP 1: Identify the Issue
Riez: In 2019, a middle schooler in ‘Ewa Beach was bullied for bleeding through their clothes.
Group: Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.
Riez: They didn’t have access to menstrual products like a pad or a tampon.
Alana: This is known as period poverty.
[ON SCREEN] PERIOD POVERTY: Limited or inadequate access to menstrual products or menstrual health education.
Riez: What if we could prevent this problem from happening?
[Riez] STEP 2: Start Small
Alana: We began by addressing this issue locally at our school.
Riez: So, our club created menstruation stations to provide free period products.
Alana: Our first station was a cardboard box we decorated with streamers.
Riez: We made menstrual care kits that included motivational notes.
Alana: Our notes said things like:
Riez: “You’re amazing!”
Riez: “You’re doing great!”
Mili: You all turned the negativity into positive support and creativity!
Riez: Soon, other teachers created their own stations.
Alana: And non-menstruating people began carrying menstrual products to support their friends and partners.
Student: Ugh, I got my period.
Group: I got you! We got you!!
Riez: Together, we were fighting the stigma around periods so no student at our school would ever be bullied for menstruating again.
[Alana] STEP 3: Dream Big
Mili: Y'all did such an amazing job changing the culture at our school.
Alana: Yeah! But we’re just getting started.
Riez: And you know, we asked ourselves: Well, what if every student across Hawai‘i had access to free menstrual products at their school?
Alana: Now we had our mission.
[Riez] Step 4: Grow the Movement
Riez: But how could we reach all of Hawai‘i’s schools!? We don’t even know how to drive yet!
Alana: The challenge felt too big.
Riez: So… we partnered with other groups around Hawai‘i fighting for the same cause.
Alana: Then, Ms. Mili met Hawai‘i State Representative Amy Perruso.
Rep. Perruso: Aloha!
Riez: Representative Perruso helped us write our first bill for free period products in public schools.
Student reading bill: free menstrual products have positive impacts on education (overlapping lines)
[Alana] Step 5:
[Alana and Riez] Spread the word!
Alana: We had a great idea and we had great partners, but it felt like no one else knew what we were up to—like no one was listening.
So we started to design merch!
Group: Googley eyes are in the, they’re kind of in the glitter. / Where are the googley eyes? / They’re in the glitter!
Alana: We created
Riez: We spoke with media outlets and we used Canva to design activist art to educate and encourage people on social media to support our cause.
Riez: Sometimes people ask us, “Why period poverty? Why are you working on this issue?”
Telia: This was personal. It’s a local problem that hurts my friends and other people around me.
Kaitlyn: You can’t solve poverty with just one bill, but you can chip away at it.
Cyri: We can solve problems little by little, and little things add up to be big things.
Kaitlyn: That’s what we’re doing.
[Riez] Step 6:
[Alana] Don’t Give Up!
Riez: That first year, we worked hard to write our testimonies.
Mili: Those testimonies were absolute fire!
Alana: But COVID stopped any bills from going forward.
Riez: The next year, we didn’t even get a hearing on the bill.
Alana: We were discouraged.
Riez: I was definitely considering of just like giving up.
But Ms. Mili reminded us to think about Queen Lili‘uokalani who never gave up.
Alana: We had to keep fighting for us. And for the students of Hawai‘i.
Riez: We took all the lessons we’d learned and the partners in our strong coalition, and we gave another round of strong testimony and…
Group: The bill passed!
Alana: Through this bill, our original hopes will come true: the state legislature will fund and provide free menstrual products to all public schools and charter schools across all of Hawai‘i.
Riez: Changing things takes time.
Alana: Each of us 8th graders learned from the leaders before us. We pass on strategies and traditions and values, just like Queen Lili‘uokalanii taught us to do.
Riez: A statue of her stands on the Capitol grounds, challenging us to honor our roots and build futures in which all of us can thrive.
Alana: Do you think we made Queen Lili‘uokalani proud of us, Ms. Mili?
Ms. Mili: Absolutely.