Why we’re working on building equity

Dan Dougherty Headshot

By Dan Dougherty
Chief Communications Officer

Eagle County Schools started its journey toward increasing its culturally responsive teaching last school year. We reviewed research, evaluated programs, scrutinized proposals, and collectively selected Gary Howard and Corwin to provide their evidence-based professional development for our staff and students.

The Howard/Corwin program is called Deep Equity, and it builds capacity for long-term change. It helps school districts build the climate, protocols, and shared goals necessary for implementing culturally responsive teaching practices.

The Deep Equity approach connects disparities in student performance to unintended institutional biases and norms. These biases slow our response to changing student demographics. By recognizing harmful institutional biases, and challenging them through collaborative work, we more effectively build relationships with students that foster learning.

People ask me in the grocery store, “What is equity?” and, “Why are our schools working on equity?” In the simplest terms, equity is freedom from bias. On a human level, it gets more complicated. Generally, it is relating to one another across our differences.

We may have different races, languages, gender identities, sexual orientations, cultures, “social status,” or special needs, but the differences need not separate us as people, especially people of a community. Instead, we celebrate the richness our differences bring to the enjoyment of life.

To be able to relate across these differences, we need to experience them, understand them, and appreciate them. In a sense, we all live in a bubble of our own experiences and can consciously step out of our bubble to experience another’s bubble. When we return, we find that our own bubble has expanded from the experience.

In our work to become more culturally responsive, the first thing we must do is build “tone and trust.” Building trust takes time and can be uncomfortable. We’re currently in this phase of the work. Tone and trust must come first because relationships always precede learning. Students have to trust and appreciate teachers before they are open to learning from them. Our district-level training started with leadership and teacher facilitator training to build more trusting environments.

To help build trust and create the right tone, secondary students started their Youth Equity Stewardship training on Tuesday. Nearly 100 students met at Walking Mountains Science Center for YES training. They learned about personal culture and journeys.

Since the students are at the center of the work, they are in the best position to spread cultural change peer-to-peer in their schools. Student-led equity is unique to the Corwin Deep Equity program. It recognizes that you can’t just change the adults in a system — you have to include the students.

To help inspire, inform, and encourage students, Eagle County Schools, with the help of the Education Foundation of Eagle County, brought Mountainfilm on Tour to the community. Mountainfilm is presenting amazing documentary short films of real people overcoming obstacles related to equity.

The program is being presented at our high schools Wednesday and Thursday, with evening showings for the community both nights. Both public showings are sold out. By sharing our work with the community, we can all rally around the efforts of our students and teachers. When everyone feels welcome in Eagle County Schools, feelings of depression and anxiety lessen, and achievement improves.

Dan Dougherty is the Chief Communications Officer for Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at daniel.dougherty@eagleschools.net