Creating conversational communities that drive change

Testimony About How SEED Teamwork Has Changed an Urban Public School

By Helaine Jenkins Sanches
Teacher, Diversity Team Lead
Charlestown High School

SEED has had and continues to have a profound impact on Charlestown High School, a public high school in Boston, Massachusetts. Charlestown High (CHS) is often recognized as a school with a racially charged history. During the desegregation era of the 70s, students of color were forced to integrate the school and some Charlestown residents were not welcoming. To the contrary, many students of color were violently assaulted-verbally and physically for simply going to school. The scars still linger but the racial problems of the past are no longer Black and White. Due to White flight, the majority of CHS students live in the Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan-predominantly neighborhoods of color. The ethnic diversity is mostly comprised of descendants from the African Diaspora, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Amongst the diverse groups of color, there have been many incidents of lack of cultural understanding, intra-group bias, and “colorism.” The misunderstood form of internalized oppression, colorism, went public six years ago when a White teacher assigned a project where students were asked to conduct a survey about which skin color and ethnic group was preferred- light or dark and or Black, Latino or Cape Verdean. The student survey went “viral” when students took the recordings to social media. This set off a storm of racial tension inside and outside of the school. The implications of this video and the worldwide reactions to it were many—among them, anger and confusion. At the time, the teachers and staff were not equipped to unpack the history of racial oppression in marginalized groups.

That is when and where SEED entered. In 2011, after the incident, two teachers embarked on the journey to understanding their own bias as it relates to racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and classism in education and in the world around us.

The following year, five teachers attended SEED New Leaders' Week and embarked on a similar journey. At SEED, we explore current research, our lives, and best practices on how to make our constantly changing schools and communities more inclusive and equitable spaces for all. The work is ongoing and life changing.

Since 2011, SEED work has inspired a broader vision for our school: To Recognize and Celebrate Diversity. Thus, our Diversity Matters Team was formed. Diversity Matters consists of five trained SEED leaders who represent many diverse groups and backgrounds as well as teachers and staff who are committed to inclusive and equitable education. Some of our work includes leading school-wide professional development for all teachers and staff and advanced SEED coursework. Today, about 89 percent of all CHS teachers have participated in a SEED seminar and 50 percent of CHS teachers have taken an advanced SEED seminar where they participated a nine-month graduate six-credit SEED course where participants delved deeper into their own bias, created and implemented inclusive unit plans into their professional practice.

As a result of the success of SEED, the SEED leaders are members of the Leadership Team, School Site Council, and Parent Council, where they continue to make change and keep issues of inclusion and equity at the center of our core values. If it were not for the generous support of SEED and the support of the National SEED staff, Charlestown might still be a school where our school community lacks anti-bias education and resources to combat racism, sexism and the other isms--which continue to impact all of our lives in subtle and not so subtle ways. While SEED is rooted in the school, there is still much more work to be done. We need to dig deeper and plant seeds for a new generation. In 2016-17, we would like to train students to become the next SEED leaders. In addition, our adult leaders need retraining and replenished resources in order to recharge and continue the work. With continued generosity and support, our endeavors and huge gains will continue.

Tags: Inclusive Schools

— Cheryl Robinson, Supervisor, Office of Minority Achievement, Arlington Public Schools, Virginia

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