Earlier this week, I had the privilege to hear Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, author of Bright, Talented and Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners and Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future, speak at the annual conference of the Kentucky Association of Gifted Education. Dr. Davis spoke about how culturally responsive education serves all students. She explained how representation of multiple perspectives in the curriculum matters, and that the imagery students see at school should be representative of all populations. She underscored the need to use authentic historical and contemporary sources in the classrooms and that reading materials should be representative of varied ethnic and gender groups. She also spoke to the need for students to hear both stories of historical struggle and to see and hear contemporary examples of black excellence.

At St. Francis, we strive for continuous learning and improvement. As Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” We know that there is always more work to do and that we are always learning. We continue to audit our curriculum and collections to make sure that our teaching materials reflect both windows into other worlds and mirrors of students’ experiences, so that they all feel visible and a sense of connection and belonging. In January and February, there are some particular highlights to share regarding the powerful work being done with students in classrooms and the School community. In January, every grade in Lower and Middle School participated in deep learning stemming from an idea sparked from a lunch conversation amongst Librarian and DEI Director Lindsy Serrano, Humanities and Digital Literacy teacher Anne Holmes, and Lower School Math and Middle School Spanish teacher Salema Jenkins, and brought to life through teachers’ creativity. All students truly dug into the reason why we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and why his ideas are so important, moving into deeper work around lesser-known social justice heroes and black artists like Christian Robinson and Lois Mailou Jones. To see incredible evidence of the students’ learning, along with a recording of a powerful Middle School Morning Meeting celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, click here.

Later in February, Middle School Students also signed up to be Black History Month Ambassadors for the Lower School, reading to Lower School students during advisory, creating art, sharing at Morning Meetings, or recording a story. Anne Holmes and Lindsy Serrano worked with the Middle School students to help them engage in leadership and service to their School community and to build meaningful connections amongst different age groups in the school around an important topic. Salema Jenkins shared a video version of The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander at the last Lower School Morning Meeting. Lindsy also shared at the Middle School Morning Meeting on Monday that recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stacey Abrams was speaking at an online event at Centre College on why we should talk and learn about Black History on Wednesday evening, encouraging interested students and teachers to catch the live event or the recording here. I also shared poet Amanda Gorman’s tribute to essential workers “Chorus of the Captains” that aired before the coin toss at the Super Bowl as the poem to close the Middle School Morning Meeting on Monday.

Beyond Dr. King’s birthday and Black History Month, we know that we must actively work to dismantle systems of oppression in the culture in our daily practice as educators. A more just, equitable world starts with education, and we aim to create a school culture that embodies the Beloved Community, as Dr. King termed it. I will leave you with this, the words of our Middle School students who have been participating in ongoing advisory activities facilitated by Lindsy Serrano. The question posed to students was: “What is one thing you can do to help create a more just and equitable world?” Their answers included statements like: “Interrupting hate speech when I hear them and telling people why it’s wrong; Include and not forget about everyone in fun things; Not laugh at racist jokes; Take an implicit bias test and try to learn from it; Interrupt any hateful things I hear throughout my day.” The culturally responsive education we seek to provide our students is a living thing, and we will continue the work.