For the past several years Revere High School has been working towards creating a more ‘equitable’ environment for all students regardless of race, religion, background or economic status.
At last week’s School Committee meeting, the panel of educators working to create a more equitable RHS gave an overview on some of their work and goals for the future.
“For the eight years I’ve been in the district I’ve seen this progress and growth and desire for Revere to become more holistic,” said panel member Blaine Yesselman. “Equity” work has become such a buzz word but what we are talking about is our students that are all amazing, capable and all deserving of the best education they can get. Some of the work we have been doing at RHS has helped us envision making this work a priority for the entire district.”
Panel member Dr. Asha Chana said part of the work has been focused on making the school community stronger through common language, common practices and inclusive work that has really put students, staff and families in the driver’s seat to bring equity issues to the attention of the district so they can be remedied or worked on.
Panel member Jason Torrey said some of his work in the schools over the past five years has focused on the ‘relevance’ of issues and how building relationships can help bring about a more equitable school district.
“We have given students a voice to speak up over issues they are concerned about (when it comes to equity or racism),” saifd Torrey. “Also there’s a focus on relationship building not only with students but with people outside of the school setting to address the issues that students care about.”
RHS Principal and panel member Dr. John Perella said the equity team is really a reflection of the school and its students.
“One of the topics we are going to examine this year is the student handbook with a lens on equity,” said Perella.
There were already rumblings that the RHS handbook may be outdated and have some racist undertones last year.
A group of students, supported by Perella posed the question to the School Committee, “If a student wears a head wrap, a headband, a hijab, a do-rag, a baseball cap, a beanie or scarf really impact teaching and learning at area schools?”
The group of students looked to change RHS’s policy on the wearing of ‘headgear’ through a pilot program and see if they can make a change to a policy they feel is outdated.
RHS students, Sofia Garcia and Sayed Karajh, made their case for launching a pilot program, later supported by the School Committee, and studied to see if the school hat policy is antiquated.
Garcia pointed out that school hat policies emerged in the 1990s out of fear of gang affiliation and safety but questioned whether it applies to the modern day and if the policies had bias against a certain group of students.
“Many schools in our society have expanded what ‘headgear; means and is defined as,” said Garcia. “In fact some schools have been criticized for bias against kids who wear certain types of headgear to express themselves.”
It was issues like the headgear that percolated up from students that made Perella and the equity team set a goal to ‘highlight’ and ‘lift up’ issues pertaining to equities or inequities that are on the minds of RHS students.
While Yesselman said RHS’s recent equity audit focused on curriculum and whether or not it was reflective of the current study body.
“We have to start thinking about the students we have in front of us today,” she said. “The world is rapidly changing so our proactiveness must change as well.”
School Committee member Anthony D’Ambrosio, whose plan to establish Revere Public School’s first ever Equity Advisory Board got the Committee’s blessing back in July, thanked the panel for their work on focusing on equity and laying the groundwork to create a more inclusive school district.
“There are no short term fixes, no set of guidelines or policies that will fix inequities,” said D’Ambrosio. “But we need to continue to keep an eye on these issues.”
The Equity Advisory Board will be a diverse mix of parents, teachers, students and community leaders that will make recommendations to the School Committee and Superintendent on a regular basis.