SCSD Students Lead Staff Trainings on Race & Equity

     Published on 2/9/21   Tagged under:    District News    Corcoran High School    Brighton Academy    Frazer K-8 School    Henninger High School   

High school students across the SCSD have been taking on a big job: training school staff and community partners about race and equity, implicit bias, white privilege and Black history.
Through the Student Coalition on Race and Equity (SCORE), students met daily for four weeks on Zoom to discuss these topics, working with community members to take what they learned and turn it into trainings. The first group of 20 students presented their work to 300 SCSD educators at New Employee Orientation last summer, and two more groups of students will be completing the SCORE training this winter and spring.
In partnership with SCSD and other community agencies, Tashia Thomas-Neal, Director of Equity and Inclusion at the Onondaga County Department of Children and Family Services, developed the program to help use the talents of SCSD students to help eliminate racism in their own community.
“I was amazed at how immersed in the material the students were,” Ms. Thomas-Neal said. “Adults find it difficult to have discussions about racial justice and social equity.  The SCSD students, however, were eager to dive into conversations about white privilege, Black history, implicit bias and all the ways in which people are marginalized in this country.  I knew that those students would be change agents in this work.”
Corcoran freshman Elijah Stevens joined SCORE to learn about race and equity, but said he has learned so much more than he expected, now implementing the things he learned from SCORE in his daily life.
Henninger sophomore Myeisha Watkins joined to get over a fear of talking in front of people.
“My experience in SCORE has been wonderful,” Myeisha said. “It is helping a lot as I practice talking in front of adults. But we have also been hearing about how great this has been for teachers!”
In their first week of training, students learned about group facilitation skills. Elijah was partnered with a staff member from West Genesee Schools as he started preparing what he would be presenting to teachers. He worked on planning what he would say and how to communicate in a way that would be engaging.
“One thing that I learned that surprised me is that we all have biases,” Elijah explained. “Our first presentation was a little overwhelming because we didn’t know if the teachers were actually going to pay attention to us. As they started asking questions, it felt like they were really taking in what we were presenting about. I feel like this group will make a tremendous positive impact on SCSD. The more people we present to, the more people who can pass on what they’ve learned and implement it into their lives. I hope people who have been to one of our presentations take at least one thing from it and turn it into something positive.”
Myeisha also said she already sees a positive impact as a result of the trainings.
“Many of the teachers didn’t know what implicit bias was when we started,” she explained. “SCORE will make a difference because it is helping the teachers understand their students better and how different we all are.”
After presenting, the students and staff transitioned into breakout rooms where the students could answer any questions, and staff were asked to answer questions such as what they learned that surprised them.
Brighton Academy School Counselor Jake Quilty-Koval said the SCORE experience was amazing, noting the amount of research, effort and enthusiasm that went into each presentation. He noted that the fact that students were presenting to educators allowed each educator to experience the content in a more personal, real way.
“The way this anti-racism information was presented – by students for educators – allows for educators to experience what is being said and what is being felt in a way that is solely their own,” Mr. Quilty-Koval said. “That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to transfer this feeling onto the presenter -- because the presenter is a student. Juxtaposition of student becoming the teacher when it comes to anti-racism is powerful. In my own experienced identity of a heterosexual white male, I feel as though I am continuously learning. Having students facilitate this type of curriculum develops that space needed for real change and introspection which leads to that action. At least it did for me!”
Frazer Social Studies teacher Sarah Craft agreed, noting that the SCORE training made her realize the need for wider-reaching district trainings on cultural responsiveness, racism, implicit bias and how to be anti-racist.
“In education, we often take for granted the power and significance of student voices,” Ms. Craft said. “We want to inspire student-driven learning and create classroom environments that are student centered, but far too frequently we do not include student voices in our curriculum development. We need to create more opportunities like this for our students to use their voices, and create other platforms for our students to become invested community leaders.”
How can you make a difference if you haven’t attended a SCORE training? Elijah suggests being aware of your privilege and recognizing your bias.
“We have to realize that we all have hidden biases,” Elijah said. “In my opinion, once we realize that, we have an entirely different perspective of what’s going on in the world today.”
Instead of buying into stereotypes, Elijah suggests seeing people as individuals, as well as spending time with people of different racial and cultural backgrounds to expand your perspective.
“I’ve learned to look at the world from someone else’s perspective,” Elijah said. “If I see a homeless person on the street, instead of judging them, I think: that could be me. He or she has feelings, too. We’re all the same at the end of the day, homeless or not.”
Ms. Thomas-Neal said it has not been surprising to see the positives that have resulted from students facilitating these discussions, noting that we all benefit by learning from directly impacted individuals – in this case, the students impacted by biased educational policies or by learning curricula that does not reflect their history or their culture’s contributions to the world.
“Youth are an untapped resource in systemic change initiatives, yet they have so much more potential than adults give them credit for,” she added. “They are passionate, knowledgeable and empathetic- all important qualities to have when one is leading this work. With SCORE, students take an active role in the healing of their own community.  That’s an extremely empowering thing.”
Thank you to the SCORE leaders, Onondaga County Department of Children and Family Services and the community partners who have helped facilitate this program to help bring about meaningful change in the Syracuse City School District community and beyond!