The Rockwood School District Student Services Department is using this pivotal moment to encourage people to educate themselves on racial injustice in the past and present, with an eye toward building a more equitable future.
Dr. Terry Harris, the Rockwood executive director of student services, launched a #SaySomething speaker series that features leading voices in education presenting virtually on topics pertaining to recognizing the experiences of Black students and working together on solutions.
Dr. Howard E. Fields III, the new assistant superintendent for human resources in the Kirkwood School District, led the first session on "Educational Asphyxiation: Addressing Racism Within Schools" on June 10. Rockwood Coordinator of Educational Equity and Diversity Brittany Hogan led the second session, titled "The Start of Liberation," on June 17.
More than 700 educators, parents and other community members signed up for each session. The series will continue each Wednesday at 1 p.m. through July 15.
"Say Something is designed to create a safe, courageous, brave space for people to talk about inequities in education, with no judgment," Harris said. "Rockwood School District has been a leader in multiple areas in education. It is our desire that Rockwood School District serves as a leader as it relates to educational equity, social justice and antiracism in education. This is not a moment, but a movement."
In his session, Fields likened the hurt and anger expressed through recent protests to the struggles of marginalized Black students in classrooms around the nation.
"In our schools, we have students who are yelling out for help," Fields said. "Our students, community and staff members do not want us to protest in public and oppress in private. Accept the fact that your perspective is one of many. Your experiences are one of many."
Fields advocated for "courageous spaces" in which all members of the school community can have frank, productive discussions about inherent bias and how to overcome it.
Hogan, too, drew a direct correlation from national events to the local level.
"I truly believe that what is going to happen in this country is based on what happens in our buildings," Hogan said. "The interlocking of racism in this country presents in all these systems and the people they serve. This isn't just a conversation for educators, but a teacher is the first teacher of every profession. If we're going to change the hearts and minds of people in this country, it has to start with the people who are teaching our future."
Hogan said educators have a responsibility to ensure Black students feel cared for and have every chance to flourish academically. Part of that effort involves rethinking curriculum in a way that showcases more diverse voices and representation.
Harris and Hogan recently led a committee, for example, that conceived a new Black literature course that will be offered to juniors and seniors at all four Rockwood high schools this fall.
"We have love for Black kids, for creating a space of justice and equity. We're people who are actively trying to make a change in the world," Hogan said. "The work starts from within. You can say you want to do all these thing but, if you don't put the pedal to the metal and make this about your own personal journey, it doesn't happen. We have the ability to work within the systems we're in and create real change."
Speakers and topics for the rest of the series are:
- June 24, 1 p.m.: Dr. Terri N. Watson, associate professor of educational leadership, City College of New York; "The Problem with Kindness: What Should Educational Leaders Know?"
- July 1, 1 p.m.: Dr. Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, superintendent, School District of University City; "Heavy is the Head: The Intersectionality of the Head and Heart for Educational Leaders."
- July 8, 1 p.m.: Sherita Love, manager, EdHub STL; "To Everything There is a Season: Organizing, Mobilizing and Strategizing for All Our Kids."
- July 15, 1 p.m.: Dr. Terry Harris, executive director of student services, Rockwood School District; "And How Are the Children?: A Conversation with Students."
To RSVP to attend the "Say Something" virtual seminars, click here