Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
November 1, 2016
Vol. 74
No. 3

Tell Me About … / How You Disrupt Inequity at Your School

Tell Me About … / How You Disrupt Inequity at Your School thumbnail
Credit: ©2015 Susie Fitzhugh

A Focus on Culture

My school, which has the demographics of an urban school, has disrupted inequities by implementing culturally responsive pedagogy. Beginning in the summer of 2015, we trained our staff using a seven-part cultural competence series. Topics included equity pedagogy, cultural responsiveness, cultural relevance, multicultural curriculum and instruction, stereotype threat, deficit theory, and resilience.
This initiative forced our team to revisit student management policies, student-staff relationships, and practices that ensure students have equitable access to "gateway" courses, such as AP classes.
As a result of our work, we have seen a 50 percent decrease in overall behavioral referrals (including a 35 percent decrease in out-of-school suspensions and a 64 percent decrease in in-school suspensions). We also saw double-digit growth in three of four state exams in English language arts and math, a 100 percent college acceptance rate for the second consecutive year, and an 18 percent increase in AP exam pass scores (this after adding 12 AP courses over two years).
Not only did we improve student outcomes, but we also addressed a history of turnover among faculty, staff, and principals. We developed a protocol to ensure that we are hiring the right people. We have now retained 83 percent of employees in their 3rd year or beyond at Sierra High School. In doing so, we have ensured that our students receive equitable access to highly qualified teachers who care for them and want to see them succeed.
Aaron Griffen, principal, Sierra High School, Harrison District 2, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Students Disrupting Inequity

After years of hoping for change, we said "enough is enough." We would no longer wait for others to offer equitable opportunities to students. At Elk Grove High School, our incredible student mentor group, Estudiantes Unidos, disrupted inequities for low-income students by designing, marketing, and delivering a free summer camp in our district's mobile home parks. Because most of these families live far from a library or park, the children don't have easy access to books, summer camps, and other basic opportunities that most suburban families take for granted.
Ricardo Castro (2016 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist) and our student mentors brought books, sports, and service learning to the kids. The summer camp gave our future high school students an educational and social experience they'll never forget. Parents, campers, and mentors alike were moved to action, and the positive impacts continue into the school year.
Paul Kelly, principal, Elk Grove High School, Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Equity and Access

As schools strive to prepare students for the 21st century workforce, our district decided to look at the number of students enrolled in AP courses. The data revealed a gap in participation from underrepresented populations, such as Hispanic students, English learners, and students from low-income families. To develop a plan aimed at encouraging enrollment in these courses, we partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools to lead our schools through a reflective two-year journey. As part of this work, our schools targeted students who showed potential in succeeding in advanced placement courses. The schools have shown a minimum of 8 percent growth—one school had 17 percent growth—in AP course enrollment.
The conversation led us to discuss giving all students the opportunity to take the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT. As a result, the district now funds the cost for every student in grades 9–12 to take either the PSAT or SAT. Our superintendent Michael Christensen put it best: "As a district of excellence, we seek to ensure equity and access for all students."
Jennifer Bourgeois, coordinator of student assessment and educational measurement, Orange Unified School District, Orange, California

Advocacy at Work

I work at a school funded by the Department of Defense, and my students face an adversity that most children never have to face: the deployment of a parent to a war zone. Some students have even lost a parent to war. For this reason, we launched a program called S.T.A.R., which stands for stop, teach, affect, reach. The program pairs every child with an adult advocate in our school. We stop one day each week to create an environment in which the students understand that they matter to us and that we are advocating for them. We also provide an outlet for students to share how they feel. The difficult and unique challenges these students face can be a bit more bearable knowing that we are in their corner—empowering them to be the stars they truly are.
Kelisa Wing, 8th grade English language arts teacher, Faith Middle School, Fort Benning, Georgia

All-Around Support

To disrupt inequities, my school and district prepare for each year by carefully looking at the challenges students face both in and out of the school environment. My district offers school choice, which opens doors for low-income families. At my school, we provide low-income students with three meals and one snack per day. Every Friday, students take home "blessings in a basket," providing families with food to eat over the weekend. For some of our students, the language barrier is one of their biggest challenges. As a result, my district requires all teachers to receive the necessary training and certification to work with English learners.
Kristen Mercurio, ESE case manager/ESOL contact, James Stephens International Academy, Fort Myers, Florida

Give Them Space to Grow

For the past 30 years, our organization has taken our students camping. On these trips, students participate in various team-building activities, oversee camping responsibilities, and are involved in group counseling sessions.
These trips have proven to be among the most rewarding experiences of my career. The students we serve in our organization have demonstrated unsafe behaviors and have difficulty functioning in a comprehensive setting. They often come from backgrounds of trauma and have struggled in various areas of their lives. They have faced adversity and have been subjected to inequitable treatment.
However, they have hope. They have family members and friends who support them. They also have educators who have not given up on them. The camping trip is the embodiment of this collective support system that values all students and their well-being. Students experience this trip together, support one another through new challenges, and reflect on their growth.
If you ever get the chance, take your students out of their element. Let them challenge themselves.
Adam Brown, principal, Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Beginning the Conversation

Our school's PBIS team often examines attendance and behavior data. When we look hard enough, we often see a correlation between the two factors. We made an effort to get to know the students with low attendance and high office referrals and found that our black male population was being underserved.
Raising the subject seemed taboo because we had never broached this topic of inequity before—perhaps because our staff demographic does not match our student demographic. However, once we began, we had some great discussions, which in turn left us with more questions. Our conversations led us to begin initiatives for better student-teacher relationships that foster communication across lines of race and class.
Oscar Silva, teacher, Reagan High School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Setting Up Students for Success

At my Title 1 school, more than half of the students fall below the poverty line. However, our students in poverty do as well as their more affluent peers.
One way we disrupt inequity is by helping students set goals. Each student determines reading goals and makes plans to meet them. The goals are simple, such as "I will read 20 books by the end of the first quarter." When we confer with students, these goals are at the heart of our conversations. We remind students that their goals are promises they make to themselves and that they are capable of meeting them.
When the goal period is over, we assess. Last year, more than 90 percent of our students met their goals, and we celebrated! We also problem solved with children who did not meet their goals, communicating our belief that they could—and would—meet their targets next time.
The way we set goals is simple, but the effect is stunning. When students meet goals, they see themselves as capable of achieving great things. They feel successful, and that success spreads like wildfire. And when they meet new goals, that fire burns brighter.
Rita Platt, teacher librarian, St. Croix Falls School District, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

Bridging the Gap

At Rancho Verde High School, we have disrupted inequities using a social-emotional approach and by creating a sense of belonging. For example, on the first day of school, our cheerleaders and Link Crew held signs with positive affirmations to welcome all students. (The Link Crew is a peer mentoring program that helps freshmen transition to high school.) We have also implemented a forum to give students a voice so that we can identify inequity and work to bridge the academic and social gaps. We want an environment where everyone is heard.
Patrice Harris, high school assistant principal, Rancho Verde High, Val Verde Unified School District, Moreno Valley, California

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
From our issue
Product cover image 117039.jpg
Disrupting Inequity
Go To Publication