On SB185: Diversity Makes the Difference

Teachers & Principals | 05/10/2021

Erika Tunson
Principal, Monterey Elementary in Colorado Springs

This is Erika's 25th year in Harrison District 2. Before serving as principal, Erika also taught for 17 years.

Teacher diversity is really important for a couple of reasons. One reason is because kids need to see teachers and administrators that look like them.

I am a native of Colorado Springs. I did not go to diverse schools and I was often the only person of color in the class or the grade level. As I grew up, my mom was adamant about choosing whose class I was going to be in.

I really wanted one particular teacher in first grade, but my mom said, “I want you to be in Ms. Wilson’s class.” Ms. Wilson was Black. If there was an option for any diverse teacher—Latino, Black—that's who she chose. She said, “I thought it was important that you be in a class with someone that looks like you.” She didn’t always go for the teacher everyone said was best. She was adamant.

I was in the classroom for 17 years and that’s where I came to the realize I am important to all of these kids because I don’t think they knew Black people.

Students that aren’t of color need to see people of color that are people we respect and people who are successful and a professional. Even for more affluent districts, it is important to invest in diversity because you may be the only person of color the students ever know. You have the opportunity to create an impression, so that the impression they are left with isn’t everything else they hear on TV or wherever; the impression is you.

Our schools are basically our societies. In a small way, our school is the world and in the world, you are going to meet all types of people. That’s the purpose of public education – to raise students that can vote and be a part of the community.

As an administrator, I’ve had a lot of incidents in the last few years—politically charged incidents—where I’ve had kids calling other kids the N-word. This is why we need to have teachers of different races, so they can say, “I’ve had all those conversations.” If an incident came through, I said, “I need to have this conversation so this student can understand how this makes me feel.”

I tell them, “You said that to a person who is my color. A person just like me.” Then I ask, “Why would you say that?” And it’s important that I I say, “Do you think of me that way?” They always respond that, no, they don’t.

“Then why would you say that word? That hurts me.”

That translates powerfully.

Later, I believe, when they think maybe they don’t like Black people or they hear negative messages about us, they can remember, “But I like Ms. Tunson and she is Black.”

SB21-185 would allow my school to continue the path we are on. I am very, very lucky. I have a very diverse staff. I am Black, I have a Hispanic secretary and a Black secretary. I have four African American teachers; I have three Latina teachers. This bill would ensure I could maintain that diversity- that diversity is what makes our school great. I see the difference that it makes.

Our state landscape is starting to change, and this bill would give many districts the opportunity to change. They could expose their students to diverse culture and people – in a positive way – so you are seeing these professionals – not just want you see on the news, or tv, or your parents’ experience. Students would have lived experiences of a person of color and begin to create their own ideologies to derive meaning from. It would be very powerful.

We make impressions on the students in front of us. We can make those positive impressions early so when the world tells them whatever negative messages about Black people, they can say, “That’s not my experience. My teacher is Black and I love her. There must be something here.”


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