Mukilteo School District staff takes part in equity training

By Brandon Gustafson | Jul 03, 2018

School may be out for summer, but Mukilteo School District teachers and staff are still hard at work.

Members of the school district took part in two lessons on Wednesday, June 27, and Thursday, June 28, which focused on equity and racism in schools.

Trudy Arriaga, a retired California superintendent and  published author, spoke on equity, and Caprice Hollins, who has given presentations at many different workshops for the Mukilteo School District over the last several years, spoke about racism.

Following a suggestion by Mukilteo School District Spokesman Andy Muntz, The Beacon attended Arriaga’s Thursday morning presentation. Muntz said Arriaga’s presentation was more related to policies and teaching practices within the school district.

Arriaga’s talk was centered on the metaphor of open doors for students, and ensuring that all students have access to the same opportunities.

“All means all when it comes to our students,” Arriaga said. “Whether that’s age, sexuality, race – all means all.”

Arriaga is from Ventura, California, where she both went to school and also worked as a paraeducator, principal, and later, as a superintendent. She is also the author of “Opening Doors: An Implementation Template for Cultural Proficiency.”

Arriaga stressed that equity has been at the forefront of her career in education, and should be important to Mukilteo teachers as well.

“It matters to me that all people have opportunity and access in education,” she said. “Think of doors you have the opportunity to open for these students. We can also find doors we can open wider. This isn’t adding one more thing, this is doing what you already do with a culturally proficient lens.”

Arriaga said the demographics of the school district in Ventura is very similar to that of the Mukilteo School District, with some higher income areas as well as a lot of Hispanic and non-native English speakers.

She stressed four tools for cultural proficiency: barriers, guiding principles, the continuum, and essential elements.

Regarding barriers, she said it was important to acknowledge things like entitlement, systems of oppression, and resistance to change.

“You need to think about practices and policies in your classrooms,” she said. “Equity is about second chances and, oftentimes, about making exceptions.”

An example Arriaga offered was a teacher who gave an extra credit opportunity if students went to a play in town and brought back the ticket stub.

She said many students wouldn’t have the opportunity to do something like that for financial reasons, family obligations, or because of work.

Regarding guiding principles, Arriaga said that, after reading the district’s mission statement,  she believes the Mukilteo School District believes in equity and the principles of equity.

“The district appears to believe in this value system, but actions need to follow,” Arriaga said. “Do you all believe in this?”

Arriaga said oftentimes, when results are predictable, such as which types of students receive perfect attendance awards or which students are named valedictorian and salutatorian, that that may not necessarily be a good thing.

“When I walk into an AP class, I can tell because it’s predominantly white,” Arriaga said. “Until I can walk into a class and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that was an AP class,’ then we have work to do.”

Arriaga had teachers in attendance tell stories about their school careers that people may not believe.

One teacher said she was put in ESL classes because of her last name after she told a counselor she was having trouble learning from a specific teacher.

Another teacher said she was on reduced price lunches as a kid, and that she had a different colored ticket from kids who paid full-price for lunches. She was so embarrassed by this that she would bring an empty bag to school and not eat rather than get that different colored ticket.

“Think of what kind of stories are going on in your district,” Arriaga said. “Think carefully about the things you say like ‘crying or throwing like a girl.’”

She also stressed that although opportunities may be present for students, some students may need more help capitalizing on them than others.

“Are doors open for every child and their family?” Arriaga asked. “Are we escorting them through those doors?”

For what Arriaga calls “the continuum,” it’s all about the gradual steps from closed-mindedness to open-mindedness, with the end goal being where teachers are advocates for social justice and opportunities for all students.

“It’s a process that is on a continuum that takes time, energy, and effort,” she said. “We have three school board members here, which shows me that the leadership of this district cares about these values.”

Arriaga said the essential elements of equity culture, diversity, dynamics of differences, adapting to diversity, and institutionalizing cultural knowledge.

“Don’t tell me who you are; show me,” she said. “My father taught me that at a young age, and it’s now at the core of leadership at every institute I’ve been a part of.”

Arriaga said she believes the Mukilteo School District is interested in academic potential and making all students a part of the community, as shown through the district’s mission statement.

“How fortunate to have it articulated like this,” she said. “Now, do your actions reflect these values? If not, work towards them.”

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