Five values driving this work:
We believe every voice in this community is valuable: Every person–whether they’re a student, parent, teacher, administrator, or otherwise–has something valuable to add to this picture and we value their opinion and perspective. We recognize that this issue is best solved as a community, with everyone represented.
We believe in equity: This conversation is one part of an ecosystem of structural inequities that systemically disenfranchise black and brown people in this country. Though the space is inclusive of all voices, we also aim to direct some attention to voices that may not have previously been part of this conversation and elevate them.
We believe in positive change: We believe that there are ways we can improve, and we’re invested in seeking those out.
We are honest with ourselves and each other: This work is best served when all parties are honest about their barriers to understanding, difficulties, and challenges. It’s served just as well when folks are honest about their hopes, great breakthroughs, and moments of vulnerability.
We trust each other: In order to create an honest and open space, it’s important that participants have an understanding that they’re safe in this space to express what’s on their mind, and build from these honest conversations and explorations.
With that being said, how do you begin to tackle something as daunting as the school-to-prison pipeline?
The most important takeaway from most convenings is the understanding that though this problem will not be solved in a day, momentum has been made. Thus, I want to give everyone a chance to attack this problem and their understanding of it through empathy. Though the school-to-prison pipeline represents a larger systemic problem involving many actors, many cases begin with an interaction between the student and a teacher or administrator. I’d like this exercise to be one that allows the two parties to later tap into a moment of empathy when faced with conflict again, such that there can be a conclusion other than a punitive one.
During the school day, I’d like to take a full day to do an immersive exercise in which students can share their experiences with faculty and administrators and vice versa. I think any longer than one day would detract from class time and fail to hold everyone’s attention, but it would be enough time to fully flesh out the contours of this exercise. During the first half of the day, students and teachers could start the school day off with a concurrently-run series of interventions that detail their experience with authority inside and outside of school.
For the students–
There would be five sections of the day, all intended to allow students to express how they feel about being in school during the day. For some that could mean letting out some of the frustrations and for others that could mean showing others how they find joy in their community. The first exercise is one designed to let out that emotion out onto a physical object. Each student gets two giant pieces of poster-sized paper and is told to do whatever they’d like to it that represents how they feel about a normal school day when they wake up in the morning, before they have arrived. The second is a more physical activity, asking students to express how they feel about a normal school day around mid-day through bodily movements and dance. Slightly more structured than the last, the third asks folks to let their feelings out about leaving school at the end of the day through song or the written word. The last is a written exercise, asking folks how they feel about life at the very end of the day, as they’re going to sleep at night. Though these interventions are all done in quick succession, any student who doesn’t feel comfortable reliving their day through a particular medium can choose to swap out another medium should they choose. The wrap-up activity is a “Day in My Shoes”, in which students get to share what they’ve learned about the way they experience a normal school day through this reflection. A few students then share the story behind their interpretations of their school day, with an eye for variety. Once completed, the moderator asks students to do this exercise again, except this time describing what a perfect school day would look like to them. They can use any of the mediums they used earlier on in the day, whatever works best for them.
For the teachers and administrators–
An analogous experience would transpire for the teachers at the same time. They’d get space to do this activity in a room of just teachers, allowing them the space to find community in an environment that can often be isolating for them.
The moderators (who were taking notes at all of the interactions of the day thus far) then facilitate a conversation between teachers and students, allowing each to air some of the points that came up during the day. There’s special care to focusing on the elements of a perfect school day, unlocking the learnings found from that reflective practice in particular. Moderators then lead a closing practice that allows everyone to build from what they learned about everyone’s ideal school day to cogenerate some ideas of how to translate that sentiment into practice.