Members of the Equity Task Force at Seattle's Leschi Elementary say they won’t be able to shield their children from hateful words and cruel acts. But they can let the children know they have their backs and model for them what it looks like to stick together.
(Editor’s note: Education Lab welcomes guest essays about your personal experiences with education, whether you’re a teacher, parent, student or anyone who has attended or worked in schools. This essay comes from parents and staff at Leschi Elementary, which was previously featured in Education Lab. Interested in submitting your own guest essay? Email our engagement editor, Dahlia Bazzaz: email@example.com)
Last week, our elementary school sent families an email: “A message was spray painted near the school on NE wall of corner of MLK and Yesler where we have a crossing guard for our students and parents. It said, ‘assimilate or leave.’ ”
Our kids pass this corner every day. They were born in 16 different countries, and speak more than 10 languages. Of our 410 students, 44 percent are African American (including 11 percent recent African immigrants), 32 percent are white, 11 percent are mixed race, 10 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are Asian. About 48 percent of our families are low-income, qualifying for free- or reduced-lunches, and 18 percent of our students are homeless.
In short, Leschi Elementary represents the diversity of this country and the opportunity before us. We are a microcosm of America. In this time of hateful, divisive language, we have a choice: Stand up for one another and build a community that serves all of us or perpetuate inequities and injustices that marginalize and harm people. Silence is not an option.
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Two years ago, Leschi confronted an ugly truth. We were two schools under one roof. Our Montessori program primarily served white, more affluent families selected via the Seattle Public Schools “choice” option, and our general-education program mainly served lower-income students of color and students for whom English was a second language. Achievement scores revealed a gross disparity between the two tracks.
School leadership decided to tackle the issue head-on. With the support of a dedicated group of parents and staff known as the Equity Task Force, the school administration piloted a blended model, built support for the new approach and got the School Board’s permission to adopt an integrated approach that seeks to provide an equitable education benefiting all students.
This is the foundation for a truly integrated school, where students from all walks of life can learn together and play together, and all benefit from a shared curriculum, rich cultural diversity, and strong commitment to social justice by our teachers.
It hasn’t been perfect. We’ve made real progress but are still tackling challenges related to equity and inclusion. Just like our country is. Despite the challenges, we remain firmly committed to all our students and refuse to let the status quo of inequity prevail.
In monthly meetings in the school library, our Equity Task Force has had uncomfortable and necessary conversations. More often, however, we’ve been inspired and encouraged by the shared commitment of our families, teachers and students to a community — to a world — in which all of us can achieve our full potential.
The evening after the graffiti was discovered, Leschi parents and students hung signs at the intersection reading “Hand in hand, together we stand” in English, Spanish, Amharic, Oromo and Somali, the most common languages spoken by kids at our school.
We won’t be able to shield our children from hateful words and cruel acts. We can, however, let them know we have their backs, model for them what it looks like to stick together and stick up for one another, and join hands as we go out into the world.