By Anna Ni & Maxwell Brooke, Staff reporters
Note: A reprint from The Cleveland Journal
In a country where students of color have surpassed the white enrollment in public schools, conversations around racial equity are becoming a necessity. In order to facilitate a better relationship between a diverse student body and a predominantly white teaching staff, Cleveland’s race and equity team have made it their goal for teachers to become more aware of racial injustices, implicit bias and integrate race and equity in the classroom. Restorative Circle Coordinator Chev Gary said school leaders make sure racial equity is held high at Cleveland by incorporating it during staff training. “Over the course of the time our racial equity team has existed, our administrators have done a really good job of prioritizing all-staff learning time and focusing it around things that support racial equity in our school,” Gary said. “It’s important for the staff time to be something that supports teachers, but also end up supporting students.” Math teacher Joseph Lenzo is a newer member of the race and equity team. He believes the workaround racial equity at school is important for eliminating large opportunity gaps between white students and students of color.
“Our goal is basically to eliminate racist conditions in school in order to allow all students to thrive, be supported, and to have access to quality education,” Lenzo said.
“It’s all about the students and really just making the conditions right for everyone to be successful and trying to fight historic prejudice in the system.”
While Cleveland does its best to combat racism, people are not perfect and incidents still occur. What happens when a conflict regarding race and equity arises in a classroom? Gary said most of the time students are impacted because of either miscommunication that has to do with race and identity or microaggressions – brief and common daily behaviors, whether intentional or not, that end up sending negative and derogatory messages towards specific people or groups of people. For example, a microaggression would be a teacher failing to properly pronounce a student’s name even after they have been corrected.
“A lot of the time there isn’t anything that happens after microaggressions occur, and that’s the problem,” said Lenzo. “So, what we try to do in our professional development is to allow teachers to process and see those incidents that they may not have noticed before,” Gary stated that larger incidents tend to be brought to him or his restorative circle partner, Jamil Harding, because students are able to request restorative circles, which allows them and their teachers to mend relationships, making them a key resource in improving the environment at school in regards to race and equity. In addition, Cleveland’s race and equity team now include a student group. This team is new, but members of the race and equity team believed it was important to hear student voices in order to know how to best support them.
Sophomore member Ismahan Weheylie is on the student equity team. “We just come together once every two weeks, and we talk about important issues and how we can come together as a community and school to solve them,” Weheylie said. Weheylie said the discussions are important so students can talk about how to improve the school community. “You don’t just come here for school; it’s a place where you should feel comfortable and safe in,” she said. Though students had to be teacher-nominated in order to participate in meetings, current members are working on finding a way to be more inclusive towards all students who may be interested in sharing their voice. “Already, that’s forcing us to have to come up with a method where students can nominate students,” said Gary. “Because maybe there are people who can really enjoy being a part of that team and make an impact.”