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We must open new doors for students

Two Views: Scott School changes a big step for district policies

On Sunday, Nov. 4, a group of us gathered with a singular purpose: to tell a broader story than the Portland Tribune’s article (Teachers protest drum beat on race, Nov. 1).

We are from Roosevelt and Franklin high schools yet we represent efforts across our own schools and our district. Two of us are African American. One is Latina. The rest are white. White educators and educators of color believe in this work.

As public servants, we view racial equity work as a moral imperative. Nearly half of Portland Public Schools’ students are of color. Yet academic outcomes — especially for African American, Native American and Latino students — lag far behind their white peers. And we are suspending, expelling and referring students of color to special education at rates far higher than white students.

If our classroom practices are not serving all students well, if our practices lead us to push out rather than educate so many students, then our practices must change.

We have been implementing racial equity practices in our schools for some time. Our current protocol — Courageous Conversations on Race — has been the most far reaching. Classified staff, custodians, central office staff, administrators and teachers are all engaged. We all own the responsibility for this equity work.

We are proud of our colleagues who chose to use their professional development stipends to attend the Summit for Courageous Conversation in San Antonio. The cost was a fraction of what we spend on remedial education. Investing in teaching all students well the first time feels worth it to us.

Our racial equity work is not about slighting white students. It’s about developing a superior education for all students — valuing all kids and learning together.

Here’s one example:

Nationally and in our district, most students in Advanced Placement classes are white — not because students of color can’t handle the work but because we rarely ask them to try.

At Franklin and at Roosevelt, we’ve opened AP courses to all students and provided the supports for all to succeed.

At Franklin we did it by starting the Advanced Scholar Program in 2008-09. Each participant checks in regularly with a mentor and the whole group meets monthly to support each other and learn organizational and college application skills.

Last year, our 48 Advanced Scholar Program graduates were virtually evenly split between white students and students of every color. All students who have completed the program have graduated and been accepted to college — more than 90 percent to a four-year institution.

This year, nearly 400 students have signed on as Advanced Scholars. Now we’re asking why not require every student to take at least one college-credit bearing course?

At Roosevelt, we did it in 2004 when we split into three small schools.

We intentionally assigned once unlikely students to AP classes. We literally brought Latino students up from the basement where they used to take ESL classes and launched the Spanish-English International School. We put them in AP courses including AP Spanish Language and AP Spanish Literature where they learn and develop bilingually.

It was the beginning of our transformation to a college-going culture for all students. Now we’ve opened our College & Career Transitions Center and are engaging students in Civil Rights history and galvanizing them to view going to college as their civil right. Now SEIS has evolved into our Spanish Immersion program and Roosevelt is again one school. Native and non-native Spanish speakers read such works as “Don Quixote” in Spanish and pass the AP exam.

Far from being sequestered in the basement, such students as Angel Gutierrez is on a full ride scholarship at Brown University and David Cortes is a Gates Millennium Scholar at the University of Miami. Students of all races are graduating at higher rates from Roosevelt and going on to college.

Expecting all students to take AP courses is about seeing all students’ gifts. “Thank you for seeing me” — that was the message that a Latino Roosevelt graduate who aced his AP exams returned this fall to tell us on his way to becoming a police officer.

At both of our schools, opening up AP classes predated our Courageous Conversations protocol. Now the protocol is deepening our work. It’s helping us see race, see culture, see the myriad ways students learn and adapt our practices to ignite their potential.

And that serves all students.

We do white students a disservice by keeping them in a bubble, unequipped to grapple with race as an essential part of identity. Asked one in our group, “If the rest of the world is having courageous conversations, how mad will you be at us if we aren’t courageous and your kid leaves the nest unprepared?”

Another in our group spoke of the positive impact of white students getting to know him, a college-educated black man.

“You can totally impact their lives and how they view everyone after you. Race is not something to run from. No matter what your classroom looks like, these conversations have to be happening.”

That was the feedback Franklin students got this fall from a visiting IBM executive after they did a presentation for him on the Advanced Scholar Program. The executive told them that the program develops in students exactly what IBM looks for in employees — the T-shaped model: deep skills with broad cultural knowledge.

This work is hard, uncomfortable and deeply personal. So much feels unresolved. But change is not easy. Nor does it need to be exclusionary. Raising up all students can bring us together. That’s what we want. That’s why we’re here. We are your children’s teachers. We hope you will join us.

Submitted by Amy Ambrosio, Roosevelt teacher; Laurel Auda-Capel, Roosevelt counselor; Elena Garcia-Velasco, Roosevelt teacher; Kevin Mechling, Roosevelt dean of students; Angela Nusom, college & career transition manager; Elisa Schorr, Roosevelt vice principal; Catherine Theriault, Roosevelt teacher; Candice Vickers, Roosevelt teacher; Susan Anglada Bartley, Franklin teacher; Trevor Butenhoff, Franklin teacher; Jeffrey McGee, Franklin student support specialist; and John Berkey, Portland Association of Teachers