By Tia Luck
When you walk into our community’s schools, hallways are filled with bright smiles, heart-filling laughter, and the hum of student voices. Each student’s unique smile, laugh, and voice contributes to our school community.
Culture is an individual’s set of values, norms, and beliefs. It shapes how we view the world, learn, and build relationships. Every student and every teacher bring their own culture to the classroom community every day. The individuality at play in our school system is one of our greatest assets and it merits deeper inquiry into how we might enhance our cultural competence for the betterment of our students.
Eagle County Schools works to improve opportunities and the level of success for its students. I am proud to announce that the district is embarking on a new strategic effort to improve our awareness of culture and ensure we are teaching responsively to meet all students’ needs.
We are beginning with training designed by Gary Howard, founder of Deep Equity. Howard is an educational expert in helping school districts initiate reform from the inside out and the bottom up. For our school district and community, this means rooting our learning environments in inclusion, acceptance, and collective support. Research indicates that when students have a genuine sense of belonging to a caring school community, they are more likely to achieve at high levels.
Tomorrow, principals and district leaders will be joined by representatives of many community organizations and nonprofits for a work session on how leaders can foster the process of creating vibrant and inclusive cultures in our schools. Additionally, each school has formed a team that will participate in training next week to become culturally responsive teaching facilitators.
These facilitators will then share with their colleagues to ensure a common understanding and approach. Working collaboratively, school teams will ensure this effort gets down to the classroom level.
The most exciting aspect of this work begins in September when teams of students at middle and high schools participate in Youth Equity Stewardship training. Youth Equity Stewards lead a change toward positive cultural acceptance and communication between students that is inclusive and supportive. The true identity of each school is discovered and refined by the students and our staff, resulting in authentic and caring relationships at schools and across the district.
We will be inviting parents and community members to join us in our efforts to ensure the social and emotional wellness of our students. Save the dates of September 18 and 19, when we will be bringing MountainFilm on Tour to town for a screening of select documentary shorts on issues of equity that our children face today.
We will have screenings and discussions at each of our primary high schools, followed by evening events for the public. Also, beginning in the fall, we will be embracing opportunities to engage community members and families in conversations around the work.
The belief is that “relationships precede learning,” meaning that a student and teacher must have a positive relationship before a student is mentally available to learn. We’re proud to say that we have an excellent staff of caring professionals who already have strong relationships with their students. This training reaffirms our teachers and elevates their cultural competence to add to their existing skill set.
Our goal for the district is to enhance our ability to positively relate to one another across the many dimensions of difference: race, culture, language, gender identity, sexual orientation, social class, and special needs. Howard’s research indicates that real school improvement is best generated at the school level by students and families, support staff, teachers, and principals.
Bottom-up school reform works when it has collaborative, courageous, and visionary leaders, plus skilled, passionate, and culturally competent teachers that ensure students are challenged and culturally affirmed in their identity.
Please join us in this journey of discovery that aims to ensure each student feels they belong in our community and can consequently achieve their heart’s and mind’s desire.
“In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” — Maya Angelou
Tia Luck is the Strategy Coordinator for Eagle County Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org