May 3, 2019
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Building Bridges to Equity Explores Culturally Responsive Leadership and Teaching
From: Jaime Dunkle
Photos: Aketi Merrick

Content matters more than a teacher’s thoughts about it, according to Jamie Almanzán of the Equity Collaborative who led the final of three Building Bridges to Equity training events in this school year’s series. 

Multnomah Education Service District and the Bars to Bridges project hosted Building Bridges to Equity: Culturally Responsive Leadership and Teaching at McMenamins Edgefield on April 16.

Human interaction is innately culturally responsive, according to Almanzán’s presentation to an array of administrators, school counselors, educational staff and community partners from seven school districts in the Portland Metro area.

One key applicable topic at the event explored ways to approach systemic racism via critical race theory.
“Jamie spent a lot of time unpacking critical race theory,” B2B Transition Specialist Amanda Swartzmiller stated via email.

She said counter-storytelling was an aspect of critical race theory that directly correlates to her work as a transition specialist.

It is important to encourage our youth to use their stories and their voices to challenge racist and systemic oppression,” Swartzmiller stated.

B2B Transition Specialists provide educational supports to African American, black and mixed-race youth, between the ages of 11 to 25, who've experienced detainment or incarceration.
Counter storytelling critiques and explores historically dominant narratives, according to Almanzán. Other aspects of critical race theory include recognizing the permanence of racism, whiteness as property and the critique of liberalism.

Daniel Shelton attended two of three equity events. He is a Youth Essential Coordinator who leads the Renaissance program at REAP USA. The program supports African and African American males from ages nine to 12. 

“Our curriculum is dedicated to changing the way young black males are looked at in the school and outside,” stated Shelton via email. “Along with changing the school to prison pipeline.”

The second installment of Building Bridges to Equity focused on breaking the school-to-prison pipeline with the expert insight of Dr. Courtney Robinson. Shelton attended both that training and the recent one with Almanzán on cultural responsiveness in education.
“I thought that each session was very intentional in addressing our needs in seeing our students succeed, but also keeping us aware of our diversity with student engagement,” Shelton stated.

Beau Iwersen, who attended all three equity events, has taught kindergarten at Sacramento Elementary School for 12 years. He said critical race theory will be an integral part of his work as an educator. Iwersen linked the information offered to implementing school improvement at Sacramento Elementary.

“It's a big topic but so much of it was applicable to the current situation at my school,” Iwersen stated via email. “It also was excellent information that led into culturally responsive teaching and how we can use what we know and learned about critical race theory — and all the other previous info from the trainings — and link it to the information about culturally responsive teaching.”

MESD plans to host another equity series next school year, according to Christine Otto, the Coordinator of Instructional Services at the agency.

“I think these sessions were needed,” Shelton from REAP stated, “I believe that EVERY educator should make it mandatory to be at these trainings.”
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