Eagle County Schools’ deep equity program continues with Youth Equity Stewardship | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Schools’ deep equity program continues with Youth Equity Stewardship

Train-the-trainer program designed to help students implement YES in their schools

What they’re trying to build
  1. Tone and trust
  2. Personal culture and personal journey
  3. From social dominance to social justice
  4. Classroom implications and applications
  5. Systemic transformation and planning for change
What they hope to achieve
  1. A shift in the tone and depth of adult conversations with more trust and the ability to take on tough topics.
  2. The improved climate of inclusion for students with an increased sense of belongingness and reduced bullying.
  3. Broad use of culturally responsive teaching practices with equity guiding decision making.
  4. Reduction in educational disparities: Achievement levels, discipline referrals, graduation rates, college attendance rates.

GYPSUM — Dozens of local students gathered earlier this month to learn to understand and accept each other as they are.

It’s easier than you might think. And harder.

It’s all part of Eagle County Schools’ deep equity program, defined as “freedom from bias or favoritism.”

Deep equity is a train-the-trainer program. The goal is for student volunteers to learn ways to build equity, then institute those methods in their schools and classrooms.

“We’re already seeing a positive change in the spirit of inclusion and togetherness in our high schools,” said Daniel Dougherty, the school district’s chief communications officer.

Under the contract, the school district will spend $113,728 on the entire program.

Getting to YES!

It starts with YES!, Youth Equity Stewardship, an arts-based program designed to “help build a healthy community across our differences and commonalities.” That’s according to Corwin, the California-based consulting company leading the school district’s effort.

Among the program’s core tenants:

  • Youth is youth, but can also include adults.
  • Equity “welcomes us and our identities, with our full humanity and our beautiful diversity intact.”
  • Stewardship “is a way of engaging the world with collective purpose and in the most caring and culturally informed manner.”

The gathering earlier this month was the latest for the group of student leaders and volunteers.

“We are here to give you frameworks,” said Benjie Howard, one of the facilitators with Wade Antonio Colwell.

“The goal is to give students a voice to make their schools what they want them to be,” Howard told the room packed with local high school and middle school students.

The students will meet a few more times this school year as they learn to have “a positive impact in your school and beyond … Along the way we will recognize our powerful roles as ‘equity stewards,’” Corwin says in its YES! guidebook.

Social dominance and social justice

The session focused on social dominance and social justice. The goal is to help the students understand “how social dominance (power over others) shows up in our personal experiences, relationships, and in our schools and institutions.”

When students learn to recognize “oppression and name it,” they’re “more prepared to act as stewards working toward social justice,” the Corwin material says.

For example, saying we’re a nation of immigrants makes Native Americans feel “discluded,” Howard said.

“Calling it a nation of immigrants is like covering history with a blanket of germs,” Howard told the group.

It’s not a static exercise. At one point students moved around the room to create a world map … sort of. They were encouraged to stand anywhere in the world without the constraints of international boundaries or compass directions — an exercise in shaping their world.

When they settled, Brazil was close to Australia, and across the room from India. Nepal was in the front of the room, next to Hawaii. The moon was near the center of the room, next to Argentina.

Then they had one minute to find the people on their continent. Cacophony ensued. So did laughter. Soon, though, they found each other, as people will.

During a Phil Donahue-style session, a few students moved around the room with microphones. Some students insisted that “everything is on fire,” while others pointed out that things are getting better.

“Politics should not stand in the way of co-existing with other people,” said one student.

A first-year teacher took the microphone and exclaimed that “Teachers don’t have enough of anything they need!”

The climate was a common topic, with one student asserting that “Smog comes up from the Front Range and settles on the mountains.”

They respectfully debated whether equal opportunity also means equal outcome.

Toward that end, the students said we’re all in this together as they sang, “We got a lotta ways of being different” … and there are “many, many rivers and they all lead to the sea.”

Influence factors

It can improve student performance, the data suggests. Corwin’s John Hattie says he spent 25 years synthesizing 95,000 studies involving more than 300 million students around the world. Hattie pinpointed more than 250 factors that influence student achievement.

When educators know those factors and apply them locally, they can increase student achievement, Hattie said.