Kaleidoscope – January 2021

We are excited to dig into the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum where every voice counts, particularly those that are least often heard. We are using this curriculum as a supplement to what we already teach and it so naturally fits into our ongoing efforts for a holistic education. We encourage you to review the Pollyanna Parent/Guardian Guide to get a better understanding of what your student will be learning. – Danae Aicher, Equity Director

 

Dear Rainbow Friends and Families,

I hope that 2021 brings many blessings to you and your family. It marks a new beginning. It is one of many new year cycles that lend itself to reflective and visionary thinking. At the school level this is a midway point. It is a natural fulcrum upon which we balance looking back at what we have accomplished and learned, and looking ahead to the possibilities and intentions for the future. 

Looking back, the gravity of 2020 is powerful in both its own right and in the ways it surfaced for some, and reinforced for others, the collective influence of our nation’s history on our modern experience.  Our obligation to analyze Rainbow’s equity efforts, and to reckon with our evolution of impact, became exceedingly clear during a thriving pandemic and racial tensions. This work is never done, but the more we centralize it, the more it will be internalized individually and systemically. 

Naming a commitment to social justice in our mission statement and establishing ourselves as an Affirmative Action school are foundational efforts. These ideas are continually revisited to ensure their integrity. Additionally, the work of building the structures, systems, and culture of an institution that lives these principles is an active role we all play regularly. This Kaleidoscope is dedicated to surfacing several of the elements that comprise our current progress in offering a humane and decolonized educational experience for our families and children. 

Below Danae Aicher, our Equity Director, speaks to the power of embedding our institutional work within the larger context of national events. 

There’s an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. The idea is that the universe will always test our commitment to whatever it is we declare we want to do.

Like so many other organizations, we here at Rainbow, have declared our commitment to equity. Equity is trendy. So much is going on in the world around us that lots of people are getting on board, anxious for some way to affect change. The ideological shift to equity is challenging all by itself. Rainbow has done that. For us, the challenge is (and will continue to be)… How do we live our mission?

The last year has really tested us. COVID put a spotlight on the cracks through which too many of our students and families are getting caught. And even as we work overtime to adapt to the changes we have to make in order to provide the best version of a Rainbow education that we can, we know that our models simply don’t work for those who are most vulnerable. Fortunately, we do not believe that pandemic education will last forever. Inherent in this pause is the obligation that we build back our educational programming with a lens on systemic and institutional norms that are in service to all students, families and staff. For further transparency, our Strategic Plan names benchmarks we are working to achieve in the next five years. 

This summer, another series of murders of Black people, The Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the country, and the political rhetoric we witnessed opposing them, shone another spotlight; a spotlight on a deep racial divide of experience in this country. Many of our white parents woke to a calling for new awareness and answered that call by engaging in honest and sometimes painful discussions with each other as well as with some of our parents of color and parents of students of color. Attendance at events like Talking to Kids About Race and White Supremacy and Me Discussion Groups, and participation in Equity Circle  are examples of this work. Out of this, we are watching families develop deeper relationships and bringing us more into community with one another. Furthermore, some of you are asking profound questions of us and pushing us to have greater imagination about what it means to “develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.”  

That mission feels especially important right now. We witnessed a horrifying scene last week. While we are not a political organization, we are one that collectively seeks to honor the whole body. That is what it means to be holistic. We cannot honor the whole without telling the truth. Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Insurrection is defined as “a violent uprising against an authority or government”.  On January 6, we witnessed a terrorist insurrection. While there’s shock and sadness for many of us, let’s keep in mind that for some in our community there was less shock and more expectation- an understanding that this has been part of the duality of our country. And the fear and worry is not esoteric or theoretical or even political; it is an everyday lived experience of having to always be aware of one’s surroundings, who is around, and who can be trusted if they face physical harm. We live in two Americas and none of us wants to continue that. 

That is why it is so important that we develop a broader curriculum for our students, one that encourages curiosity, sensitivity, cultural awareness, and critical thinking. Our Omega curriculum, and the required Equity Elective offer students the chance to examine our history and our present, find the inconsistencies in our ideals, and find the moments of great leadership beyond the common “heroes”. What lessons can they take from that and model in their own lives?  

We are excited to dig into the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum where every voice counts, particularly those that are least often heard. We are using this curriculum as a supplement to what we already teach and it so naturally fits into our ongoing efforts for a holistic education. We encourage you to review the Pollyanna Parent/Guardian Guide to get a better understanding of what your student will be learning. 

As we approach re-enrollment season, it is an opportune time to consider what it means to commit to Affirmative Action as a school community. One aspect is weighted admission, meaning preference is given to children and families of color that would like to join our school community.  Of course, this is just the beginning. We need to ensure that once a family or child of color joins our community, we apply every effort to create a climate of inclusion and belonging. Affirmative Action means we exercise the right to interpret and apply policies differently for children and families of color. As Kimberle Crenshaw, author of The New Jim Crow, explains, “Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things differently.” A commitment to Affirmative Action implies that when we build a culture of equity, instead of equality, we all benefit because our needs are met in compliance with our individualized experiences. 

While not a specific example of Affirmative Action, the 6th grade classroom currently provides a prime example of applying a policy differently to a subset of our population. Grade six has been an anomaly this year because a large number of students enrolled in fully remote education. It has reached a point that we are able to defer the cohort model, and offer fully in person learning for the eleven eligible families, until February 26th when the next round of re-enrollment decisions are made. In addition, we are able to offer fully in person learning to the two siblings of 6th graders that attend Omega ⅞ programming. Unfortunately, we are not able to make this same offer for the siblings at the elementary level, because our resources are different. The 6th grade parents consented to this decision, highlighting a community that understands that we should not prevent optimal learning circumstances for some, simply because we cannot provide them for all. That being said, we all experience indirect benefits of this opportunity that will pave the way for further reintegration to weekly in person learning as it is safe and viable for other parts of our institution. 

Kate Brantley and I are participating in Whiteness At Work. It is a four part training series designed to dismantle norms influenced by white dominant culture that impede the success of building a safe diverse working environment. While the Pollyanna curriculum focuses on a ground up approach to equity through educating our children, this type of analysis ensures the equity lens is utilized with a comprehensive, systemic, and long term vision intact. This includes hiring practices, evaluation systems, daily work conditions, and more. Fortunately, this is not the task of administration alone. Our Dynamic Governance structure provides ample opportunity for systemic change to be fostered through collective community action. We are stronger together.

As we look ahead to the 21-22 school year, there is so much hope. Not simply for a comprehensive response to the pandemic and social unrest of 2020, but for the potential of an inspired reimaging of what is possible within and beyond our community and classrooms. Our conversation about equity is ongoing, and we will always be working to create and maintain a more equitable school community. 

On January 26th, we will be hosting a school wide meeting to offer a look at Rainbow’s future. I look forward to engaging in a hope-filled conversation with you all at that time. More details about this event will be shared in upcoming Rainbow Reminders and classroom Newsletters. 

It is my sincerest pleasure to be entering a new year with each of you. May we continue to build trust, dialogue, and community in the journey ahead.

In Love,

Susie Fahrer

Executive Director

Rainbow Community School and Omega Middle School

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