With the support of the Westfield Education Fund (WEF), the Westfield Public School District has unveiled an important new educational initiative aimed at improving discussions of race in classrooms across the district.
“We are working on two fronts to address racial literacy,” says Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Programs Paul Pineiro. “First, we are embedding developmentally appropriate lessons in and conversations about race and cultural diversity in Kindergarten through Grade 12.”
In addition to the resources for enhancing instruction, Pineiro says professional development will be key to this effort and the district will provide teachers with resources and training so that they can deliver these learning activities. The district plan also extends beyond the classroom with workshops being scheduled for parents who are interested in learning more about racial literacy.
At its September 8 meeting, the Westfield Board of Education approved a grant of $18,453 from the WEF to purchase books and other materials that explore themes of inclusiveness, diversity, fairness, and equality. An additional $20,000 grant from the WEF will be on the October 6 Board agenda for approval. These donations also will fund professional development, including a November visit by educational consultant David Schwartz who helped to develop “Facing History and Ourselves,” a program that addresses racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history. Schwartz will provide forums for the community as well.
“Racial literacy is a skill that all students need to successfully navigate our increasingly diverse, global society,” says WEF President Nicole Breslow. “WEF is proud to support this important initiative and its goal of deepening understanding of race, gender, power, and privilege among the district’s administrators, teachers, students, and parents.”
During the 2019-2020 school year, then-Supervisor of K-12 English Language Arts Dr. Tiffany Jacobson and K-12 Supervisor of Social Studies Andrea Brennan examined classroom libraries in grades K-5 before recommending additional titles that provide a richer and more diverse experience. The two worked together to create the K-12 Racial Literacy Training Proposal.
“We greatly appreciate the generous support of the WEF. Through this partnership, we aim to grow our collective understanding of racial literacy, and challenge preconceived notions of race, gender, and other social constructs,” says Jacobson, currently interim principal of the Lincoln Early Childhood Center. “The stories we read and the media we consume, both real and imagined, provide limitless opportunities to examine and critically analyze these constructs. Ultimately, we endeavor to empower our students, staff, and the community at large to advocate for and realize a kinder, more just society.“
“I am so pleased to join this partnership on racial literacy with the WEF. Race remains a sensitive, and sometimes polarizing issue, one that leads to silence and avoidance in classrooms and communities,” adds Brennan. “The first step toward achieving racial literacy involves understanding how race and identity play a role in the decisions we make as leaders, educators, students, and citizens. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and the community to create brave spaces for these conversations to take place and to ultimately foster greater understanding and empathy as well as culturally responsive classrooms and learning experiences for our students.”
Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan thanked the Westfield Education Fund, Jacobson, and Brennan for their commitment to the initiative.
“These additional texts, along with targeted professional development for our teachers and administrators, will further enhance our curriculum and the ways we explore with our students questions of freedom, justice, equality, and citizenship, as well as prejudice, race, diversity, and human rights,” says Dolan.
The Westfield Education Fund is a nonprofit organization that depends on donations from the community to “support innovative projects that strengthen and enrich students’ academic experience but fall beyond the school district budget.” Visit westfieldedfund.org to learn more about the WEF and its mission “to promote a culture of innovation and enrich students’ academic and social emotional learning.”