Over the past month, our team has hosted a Summer Planning Series consisting of six cumulative hours of community-centered space for listening, sharing, planning, and dreaming together about what’s next in our education advocacy journey. In each of these four 90-minute virtual conversations, a total of 57 community members from areas across Washington state weighed in on a different structured topic: Spokane Community Priorities, Reimagining Schools, High School Success, and Student Voices.
We centered this process with a grounding in our mission: we are a nonprofit education advocacy organization focused on ensuring all students receive a high quality, relevant education, especially those whose boundless potential is overlooked and under-tapped because of their skin color, zip code, first language, or disability. We did our very best to keep our minds and hearts open during every conversation, ask broad and deep questions with sincerity, and take note of every response. And we sought to answer an important question: what should we do next?
Now that we’ve finished our final event, we’d like to share our initial findings with you and start outlining our next steps. If you have questions, clarifications, or just want to hear more, please join us on our Facebook Live Thursday, July 29th at noon while we discuss this initial Report to Community live on video together.
At three of our four events, we asked folks to fill in the blank: When I think about education in my community, I feel _____. Our collective responses span a wide range of emotion and paint a complex picture of education today.
Across all of the conversations, four initial themes stood out to our team:
Listen to Students
Talk About Race
Support Mental Health
Ultimately, we will be updating our 2021-22 advocacy priorities based on these themes and other insights from our community’s lived experiences of the education system as it exists, ideas for what should be better, and feedback on whether we’re going in the right direction. In more detail, here is what we learned:
Listen to Students
In every one of our events, participants made it clear that students’ voices were missing from the broader education conversation. The last event we hosted was a panel of five students currently attending or recently graduated from Washington high schools. Each of the panelists had plenty to share about the experience they have in the education system as it is, their ideas for what needs to change, and their passion for making it happen now. During our Reimagining Schools conversation, participants responded to the prompt In a reimagined system, students will feel _____ with answers consistent with the need to open up our capacity for hearing students: Important, Empowered, Seen, Heard, Trusted, Respected, Affirmed, Involved. It was also pointed out that advocates and educators should always be listening to students, not just when we decide to make space for them to speak up.
During reflections about the impact that the pandemic has had on schooling, a common thread emerged that the relationships forged in a school environment are an essential part of education. Our Student Voice panelists - who were involved with Choose 180, Community Passageways, and The Legislative Youth Advocacy Council - particularly reinforced the significance of the student-teacher relationship and the positive impact one adult mentor can have on a student’s life. When asked about students who are not as involved or outspoken as our panelists were, one student responded “I was that student that wasn’t engaged, until someone came to check on me.” She credited a past teacher’s intervention with her involvement and success today. Family members also expressed a sincere appreciation for the deepened school-family relationship that emerged from the consistent check-ins early in the pandemic. The families who didn’t have that connected experience were disappointed and felt more confused by what their school staff were doing.
Talk About Race
In order to have an honest conversation about the problems at hand in education, participants said that we must talk openly and honestly about race, racism, and the facts of our country's history as it relates to both. This includes providing safer spaces for families of color to discuss their experiences with the education system and supporting educators with the essential training they need to address their own racial bias in the classroom. As one participant emphasized: “They must have the expectation that Black and Brown students are highly capable, regardless of the circumstances of their lives.” In the Spokane Community conversation, there was expansive support for the district’s Equity Resolution as it relates to race and a desire to continue the work that has begun in their community. As it relates to curriculum, educators were very interested in deepening their classroom conversations around America’s history with slavery, immigration, indigenous communities, and more.
Support Mental Health
Although the national conversation the past year and half has made a strong case for supporting students’ mental health, the community members in our conversations also cared strongly about supporting teachers just as much. The implementation of this particular topic is tied clearly to the other three themes as well: by validating student experiences, talking about race/racism openly, and prioritizing human relationships in school settings, we can be well on our way to supporting the improvement of everyone’s mental health. A thread also emerged around how the pandemic has taught us (or, perhaps, reminded us) that academic learning doesn’t get anyone very far if their social, emotional, and mental health needs are not being met.
Although there was more discussed in each of these events than we can easily summarize here, these four lessons learned are initial highlights of what we heard across all six hours of conversation. Our next steps include updating our 2021-22 advocacy priorities based on these insights, sharing more of what we’ve heard, and setting up ongoing opportunities for community engagement throughout the school year.
If you want to hear more from our team about what we’re taking away from these conversations, please join us tomorrow at 12pm for our Facebook Live Report to Community where we’ll discuss these four themes and how they’re impacting our thinking going into the 2021-22 school year.
Then keep an eye out when we follow up next month with more detailed plans about our 2021-22 advocacy agenda and opportunities to start taking action. To everyone who contributed to this event series: thank you for your ongoing support and engagement with us. We are only effective advocates when we effectively represent the feelings, desires, ideas, and needs of our community. Thank you for standing with us as we stand for students.
The Stand for Children Washington Team
Andrew, Darcelina, Katie, Kia, and Virginia