By Crystal Hayduk
Superintendent Julie Helber introduced a presentation about the district’s Equity and Social Justice Coalition (ESJC) at the Chelsea School District Board of Education’s virtual work session on July 13.
Andrea Franco, the district’s English Language Learner (ELL) and equity coordinator, and Assistant Superintendent Marcus Kaemming, who has been working with families on the district’s social and emotional goals, led the presentation.
Franco said the ESJC’s work, which began before district buildings closed in mid-March, is to meet the equity and representation needs of all students. The efforts include examining the community and the school district to determine how to make it “a place where students feel accepted and everyone feels like they belong.”
Kaemming said that diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion (DBEI) are part of the portrait of a graduate. “Four years ago, when we started that work, this was referenced and has been part of what our goals are,” he said.
The DBEI work is an expansion of the district’s goals for social and emotional learning, and mental health and wellness.
Kaemming said administrators have been meeting with students who want to share their stories. “No child should leave our school saying, ‘I wasn’t heard; I wasn’t listened to; I felt invisible.’”
Franco said the ESJC’s action steps are being done in phases. The first phase began with forming the base coalition, which is comprised of district administrators and a number of teachers and other staff members. It also included initial learning, which involved conversations with parents, alumni, and students; and sharing reading and resources—some with the entire district.
The book list is “specifically culturally conscious and anti-racist” to encourage self-reflection during summer reading.
Franco said phases two through five will eventually incorporate students at all grade levels. Future work will also include professional development so all district employees will have the foundational understanding that all students belong. Curriculum will be reviewed, and students will be provided with the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds and Chelsea residents with “lived experiences.”
The conversations have been “heart-wrenching and eye-opening, which fuels the work forward,” said Franco. The work encompasses everyone, including LGBTQ, BLM, individuals with disabilities, and those with mental health issues, she said.
Kaemming said each person is at a different level and needs to question their own role. “We all have to be aware. It doesn’t mean it’s 100-percent broken, or that we’re not doing some things well, but there’s work to be done.”
Helber said she, Franco, and Kaemming had met with Tori Walz, who addressed the board during public input at the June 22 meeting. “She told us about her experience as a Chelsea student, how that translated into her experience as a college student, and her difficulties and challenges…. She gave us suggestions for things we might do currently with our students; she was an advocate for equity for all,” said Helber.
“We realized after speaking with these young people that we need to hear from more of them. We need to find out what’s under the surface. We don’t always see what our kids know,” she said.
Community members with an interest in serving on the coalition are invited to contact Andrea Franco at [email protected].