“A society that fails to value communality, our need to belong, is a society facing away from the essence of what it means to be human,” (Gabor Mate, Ph.D)
Crisis can bring about change and present opportunities in various ways. As our school districts navigated the pandemic, they were also faced with addressing other ongoing crises. Several deeply rooted systemic barriers to equity were magnified throughout the pandemic which led to urgency for action in schools across the nation.
As leaders and educators at Cuba Rushford Middle/High School focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the context of their school setting and community, one priority has been a mainstay; honoring student voice. Rather than making assumptions about equity and inclusion, leaders and educators utilized a survey to ask students their opinion, thoughts, and feelings on the matter. Survey data offered critical student insight on issues of DEI within the school community. Student input didn’t end there. Administrators, Dr. Katie Ralston and Chris Fee wanted to ensure that these critical conversations didn’t end by offering the survey, they created structures to allow these conversations to continue into the classroom. For three days in February, I was invited to join classroom teachers and facilitate restorative circles designed to discuss issues of DEI, while honoring student voice.
The concepts of DEI are embedded in restorative practices, which made the use of restorative circles a perfect tool to further address DEI at Cuba Rushford. The district has been working diligently over the past several years, and through a worldwide pandemic, to implement restorative practices district wide. One of the resources that the district has relied upon, was Kay Pranis’s book, “Circle Forward,” which provides several sample scripts for restorative circles. While spending the three consecutive days facilitating circles in various classrooms, I consulted the Circle Forward Module, “Difficult but Critical Conversations,” which provides several scripts related to DEI.
While working collaboratively with administrators in Cuba Rushford, it was promising to see that the focus on DEI and eradicating systemic barriers to equity included actions that support enhancing professional practice; building a school culture of care, and developing partnerships and relationships. As the district continues to empower students and explore DEI within their district and community, we plan to continue to work collaboratively in creating structures that support the underlying goal of achieving equity, honoring and celebrating diversity and maintain an inclusive environment.
By: Kathryn Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
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