An NASSP Student Leadership Initiative

Equity Matters: Elevating Diversity and Student Access

We understand that in order to create change within our classrooms, hallways, and our community, equity work must start with our adults.

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Equity Matters: Elevating Diversity and Student Access

By Chuck Puga

At Smoky Hill High School, we embrace and celebrate our diversity. We became a minority-majority school in the 2015–16 school year for the first time in its 40-year history. Our ethnic student profile for the 2018–19 school year showed a breakdown as follows: 43% White; 24% Hispanic/Latino; 18% Black, African or African American; 8% Asian; 6% Multi- or Biracial; and 1% Indigenous. As our ethnic profile changes, we must look at teaching and learning from a culturally responsive lens. While this has been a change for our school over the last four years, it has made our building a place of inquiry, celebrations, and courageous conversations.

We understand that in order to create change within our classrooms, hallways, and our community, equity work must start with our adults. We began our school year with two full days of “Beyond Diversity” training for our teachers. Everyone hearing the same message at the same time was transformational for our staff. Spending time together, having hard conversations about race, and seeking to understand who is in our building was powerful. This training created the opportunity to understand each other as a staff and, more importantly, as human beings. Although a wide range of emotions and philosophies came out, it brought us together for a common purpose: our students. Having a common purpose has led us to places that we could not have believed we could get to in such a short period of time.

Make no mistake—we have been planting the seeds for our equity work over the last three years. But this year, those seeds germinated into a building-wide goal with understanding of what our equity work must be. Our administrative team understands that every member of our staff has a different entry point into this work. As a staff, we must first work on ourselves before we can make the changes that are needed for our students.

All teachers at Smoky Hill are a part of affinity groups that meet one Monday a month, and we debrief as a staff the following Thursday. These sessions have been empowering, and we collaborate and have conversations on everything from articles, books, videos, and media that is pertinent to our work. The personal stories and experiences that are shared are liberating. Also, we have a book study on culturally responsive teaching strategies and an “America to Me” exploration group that have helped teachers in their entry points and understanding.

We know we will always have work to do, but we now have a clearer vision of what we want our building to look like. We understand the opportunities and access to education we want our students to have. We created a Diversity Leadership Team made up of students from grades 9–12 to meet and work with our teachers on different topics from colorism to recognizing microaggression.

There is no checklist for equity work—if you want one, then you are not doing equity work properly. We must continually work on ourselves as adults to truly impact our students. Equity work is difficult and uncomfortable, at times, but it is about doing what’s right. Our students deserve the best of us.

What does equity look like in your building?


 

Chuck Puga is the Principal of Smoky Hill High School in Aurora Colorado and a member of the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee. Smoky Hill is a school of 2100 students in the Cherry Creek School District of 56,000 students. He has been in public education for 30 years with 15 years of classroom experience and 15 years as an administrator.