Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools Report to the Bay and Paul Foundation – May 2, 2020 Report Summary

Introduction

The coalition is in an exciting, transitional time.  With the entering of a new grant cycle, our director taking a new role as the Movement Politics Director for Rights and Democracy, and the overnight transformation of our society with the onset of COVID-19 we are testing our resilience and exploring new ways of being and building together.  We’ve moved through two phases of coalition work: in phase one the coalition was created and in phase two we passed the bill and chose the working group, now moving into phase three it’s time to invest in grassroots organizing to get the educational community ready for change.

While our tactics and organization have shifted throughout the years we remain focused on our vision to build a grassroots movement of educators, parents, students, and community members.  Our vision is to uplift untold stories from people of color, indigenous, disability, and LGBTQIA communities and to organize to have these stories embedded in school curriculum and policies throughout the state.  The idea is to use our own narratives to transform and empower our communities, making us subjects of our own realities.

In this report, we outline our three phases of work as a coalition and give an overview of activities and presentations from the last three months.

Three Phases of our Work

Since its inception in 2017, the coalition has gone through three different and exciting phases as it has grown and developed.

Phase One – July 2017 to December 2018

The first stage was the birth of the coalition that led to the drafting and subsequent introduction of H.3, the Ethnic and Social Equity Working Group bill.  In less than six months, the coalition was able to hold a successful and beautiful community forum as well as testify and advocate for a bill drafted by us.

At this time the coalition consisted of a steering committee, composed of advocates from different ethnic and social groups that made decisions about the vision and inner workings of the coalition.  Advisory members, who were our elders, guided our work.   A number of organizations and individuals supported as campaign partners and provided resources such as staff, interns, copies, and office supplies.  And hundreds of individuals were on standby ready to support in amplifying the message of the coalition.

In June of 2018 H.3 suffered a blow in the legislature and died in committee.  That summer the steering committee took some time to re-group and solidify the structure.  In September of that year, we evaluated what worked and what we needed to improve on as a coalition.  The challenges were apparent, we needed to reaffirm our time commitment (all volunteers), clearly define our decision-making model, and invite others to join the steering committee.   A few members decided to move on to other projects and on October 27th, 2018 30 people attended a meeting and decided to move the work forward.

On the legislative front, the work continued by coalition members, and by October we had already received a commitment from a House representative and a Senator to re-introduced the Ehtnic Studies and Social Equity working Group bill.

Phase Two – January 2019 to March 2020

In January of 2019,  the bill was reintroduced and the Bay Paul Foundation awarded us funding through Voices for Vermont Children.  From October 2018 to January work had been done to revisit the structure and decision making model.  A new vibrant group of coalition members came to support this process and committed with time and resources.  An Education and Outreach committee was born in December 2018 which started to envision and enact the ground work. In addition, a staff committee formed, which drafted the job description approved by coalition members and collaborated with Voices from Vermont Children to finalize the hiring process.  In February 2019, we welcomed Kiah Morris as the new Director of the Coalition.  Then in May we held a full coalition retreat to develop our relationships, shared values, and work goals for the year.

In January of 2019 the Ethnic Studies Bill passed the House unanimously and later passed the senate.  The bill was signed into law by the governor as Act 1, the first law of the year during a public press conference attended by hundreds of supporters.  Act 1 or the Ethnic Studies and Social Equity Working Group law mandated that the coalition appoint 11 members to the advisory working group.  After many months of work led by the director and a committee of coalition members, 11 representatives were appointed.  The working group has already met three times and is currently deciding on its work plan which consists of sub-committees and engaging with experts and communities in the field. The coalition has supported working group members with additional stipends and has amplified working group meetings through action alerts and provided dinner for the first gathering.

During phase two we had an active Education and Outreach Committee with approximately ten coalition members meeting bi-weekly to collaborate and organize together. The overall goal of this committee was to educate and build relationships with folks in and around the education community to transform culture, policy, and practice. The Education and Outreach Committee organized two external half-day long community forums and one internal day-long retreat.  In addition, the Education and Outreach Committee responded to presentation requests and designed and delivered an interactive train-the-trainer workshop for coalition members to strengthen and unify our presentations.  As we move into phase three we hope to reactivate this committee and ensure it’s more connected and aligned with the full coalition than it was in the past.

In April, we began conversations with the Montpelier Union Elementary School regarding the AOE Equity Literacy Grants as a partnership between the school and the coalition.  The AOE requested that it become district-wide and also advised to get other districts involved.  We successfully brought together the Bennington School District, the OSSU School District and the Montpelier-Roxbury School District and helped write the grant that was eventually approved.  Although no direct funding was allotted to the coalition, it was an option for the districts to directly partner with the coalition to advance their work.

The Coalition Director presented and participated in meetings with Bennington and OSSU and found challenges because none of these two groups had prior engagement with anti-bias or antiracist strategies.  Two coalition members joined the Montpelier School District equity committee as active participants and have been successful at advancing the vision of the coalition.  In October 2019, as part of a professional development day, we were able to bring Judy Dow to share resources about Abenaki History to all the Elementary School educators. Additionally, a parent who is from the Ojibwe tribe was able to share powerful experiences with the educators in the hopes of implementing changes that will highlight the contributions and real histories of Indigenous communities. The Northfield Elementary School district also engaged with the coalition.  A coalition member did various presentations to their equity team to guide their work and served as a support.

While there was a lot of growth and positive activity during phase two, there were also some structural challenges that we hope to address in phase three.  One challenge was that the coalition activity took place in three relatively distinct committees without having a strong centralized presence.  This made decision making challenging because the full coalition was not actively connecting on a regular basis, therefore committees often made decisions in isolation.  Another challenge of the lack of centralized connectivity was that the staff committee lacked a clear role and Voices for Vermont Children ended up being the de facto supervisor of the director position.  We hope that moving into phase three we can actualize our collective, horizontal model where members and staff are accountable to each other.

Phase Three – April 2020 onwards 

On January 6th the Education and Outreach Committee had a visioning session which led to a coalition wide survey about the focus and direction of the next year.  The Committee conversation focused on wanting to build a grassroots movement in and around our schools with community and teacher organizers. The survey results indicated the top three priorities for the coalition are as follows: support educators through the development of a POC-teacher and White ally led and designed professional development program that might include a book club/reading groups, webinars and other trainings, support schools through the development of an equity auditing tool and sharing of curriculum resources, and support the Agency of Education working group through additional financial support and strategic collaboration.

We’ve had challenges with the implementation of our vision for a collective, horizontal structure and a consensus-based decision-making model.  In this next phase of work, we intend to spend our energy to make this vision come to reality.  We have learned from past experiences that movements that lack a clearly defined structure or accountability mechanisms fall into a cycle of replicating white supremacist spaces.  With our collective knowledge, we plan to hold dedicated retreats to create a space of safety where we can move the work forward for the current generation in the school and the future ones.

As we move forward together, relationship building is a central part of our work. We believe that any structure or organization can only be as strong and healthy as the quality of its relationships. We all come from various social, racial,  ethnic, and cultural groups and we prioritize sharing our stories with each other.  Currently, one member is planning to do a virtual Islam 101 for coalition members online in the next month or two.  In addition to internal relationships, we value our external relationships and all the ways coalition members are involved in other movement work and how that connects to our coalition.

While building our internal structure and relationships, we plan to engage with communities to continue building a movement that will sustain the work needed to transform our education system.  We will be making final decisions related to the survey we did in January and allow this to serve as our work plan for this coming year.

Specific Presentations & Coalition Activities January 2020 – March 2020

Montpelier School District Professional Development Day (January 20th)

On MLK Day,  the Human Rights Commission convened coalition members to present to the Montpelier School District Professional Development Day.  Over 250 teachers attended a series of workshops in two-hour blocks.

  •  Microaggressions: More than Just Race led by:  Amanda Garces (Human Rights Commission and coalition member), Asma Elhuni and Michael Hill (Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools), Victoria Pearson (Outright Vermont and VCESES member), Ita Meno (CQ Strategies), and Deborah Lisi-Baker (Disability Rights Advocate and VCESES member).
  • Three Circles Awareness; Tools for analysis and understanding patterns of valuing or devaluing, privileging or discriminating against in our classrooms. This is a useful tool to increase effective cross-cultural communication while strengthening the capacity to build equitable classroom experiences for all. Presented by Asma Elhuni, Victoria Pearson, and Amanda Garces.
  • Talking to kids and families about gender identity – Mara Iverson
  • Reframing Disability in the Classroom – Deborah Lisi-Baker
  • Turning comments that hurt into learning opportunities in the classroom – Ita Meno and Michael Hill

Goddard College Presentation (January 22nd)

A group of three coalition members engaged in a panel presentation to the Goddard College education residency.  Most of the participants were pre-service teachers working on their teaching credentials.  Additionally, connections were made with Goddard college faculty, one of whom sits on a statewide committee dealing with credentialing teachers.

Canceled Presentations due to COVID-19

Blackboard Jungle – UVM conference

Award Celebration honoring the coalition – Peace and Justice Center

Schools Against Racism – Student-led conference

Aligned Activities from our Coalition Members and Partners

We are not a project but a living movement.  We are a place where folks with various social, ethnic, and racial backgrounds call home.  We see our work as a mutual relationship where all parties are giving and benefiting from each other’s presence and activities.  We recognize both our autonomy and our interconnection.  Most but not all coalition members are in the coalition representing organizations while others do independent movement work.

Current Coalition Member organizations:

Outright Vermont

Abenaki Arts Association

Migrant Justice

Justice for All

Racial Justice Alliance

Vermonters for Justice for Palestine

The LGBTIQA Alliance

I am Vermont Too

Center for Independent Living

Voices for Vermont Children

NAACP of Rutland

Rise!

This year we are excited to welcome new coalition member Clemmons Family Farm and we are looking forward to collaborating with their Vermont African Diaspora Artists Capacity-Building Project.

 

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