By Sherrie Dulworth
To help faculty and students constructively address issues of racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of prejudice, the Chappaqua Central School District has partnered with Facing History and Ourselves, an international non-profit organization that teaches how to combat bigotry and hate.
The program launched last month with educators engaging in critical self-reflection. Educators have also been tasked with reviewing the curriculum and resources to address racism, hate, harassment, and other topical issues.
“By forcing us to stop, think, reflect and to read – it really is very powerful,” said Chappaqua staff developer Mary Devane. “We feel like it’s an exciting partnership right now that we are able to leverage and really help teachers connect with students, build those relationships, and start to rethink things.”
While the district’s middle and high school teachers have periodically participated in Facing History’s programs in past years, Teaching for Equity and Justice brings a formal structure with eight 90-minute modules. Thirty teachers from the two middle schools – Seven Bridges and Robert Bell – and Horace Greeley High School are currently participating in the program.
In the aftermath of the national civic unrest and outrage of George Floyd’s killing in late May, the community experienced several incidents of racism, one involving students. A TikTok video was discovered that showed several Horace Greeley High School students using the N-word while filming themselves inside the cafeteria.
Although the 10-second video had been filmed some months earlier, it came to light in early June and led to reported community backlash.
Pam Haas, Facing History’s Executive Director of the New York region, noted the struggle in engaging students and teachers in meaningful and complex conversations about race, history, and bias. It’s not easy work, she said, noting the difficulty facing these issues.
Haas added that Facing History has provided education to 15,000 teachers within 2,000 middle and high schools in the greater New York metro area.
“We believe that all teachers and schools deserve to have this kind of education,” Haas said.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Adam Pease said the district is engaged in complementary work alongside the Facing History curriculum, including workshops with cultural proficiency experts. Earlier this month, the district held a virtual meeting with Dolly Chugh, a social psychologist, NYU professor and author of “The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias.”
The district also created the role of Director of Equity, Inclusion & Wellness, recently hiring Phillip Marcus, Jr. to fill the position. Marcus is expected to join the district in the coming weeks.
“It’s really the community, the parents, students, many faculty members, administrators, the School Board – everybody is really leaning in to do this work,” Pease said of the broad support the work has received. “We are confident that we can move the needle as the experience gets more robust.”
To help track the impact of these initiatives, the district is collaborating with students and teachers on a diversity and inclusion survey that will reflect and measure progress over time as curriculum revisions are made. Additionally, the district will be providing regular public updates to the Board of Education, Pease said.
Referring to the program’s civic responsibility impact, Devane noted how it can help students think about civic action and ways that they can be strong citizens of the community and the world. She said Facing History has a reputation of getting students to think about moving “from being a bystander to being an upstander.”
“There’s a proverb that says the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and if you didn’t do that then, the best time to plant it is today,” Pease said. “I feel like that’s where we are. The best time for us to do this work was 50 years ago, but we’re here now.”