Beech. Sophora. Maple. Milkweed. Gingko. Yarrow. Osage-Orange. Elm. Magnolia. Take a stroll through Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn and you will be welcomed by the grand sight of all these trees—young and old. Throughout the academic year, you may also spot young children eagerly investigating this environment—dirt on their knees and smiles on their faces as they leave the park and make their way down the block to Compass Charter School. These students are wrapping up their time at Forest School—one of the many instructional opportunities built into the sustainability curriculum at Compass. Back at the school, they’ll return to classrooms that share the names of the towering timbers dispersed throughout the park. Rain or shine, Compass students are learning how to listen to and take care of their environment—not only the trees, but also the people living alongside them.
Since its founding in fall 2014, Compass Charter School has engaged its students, faculty, and families through enriching, hands-on learning opportunities (such as Forest School) centered around inquiry, creativity, and sustainability. The Fort Greene elementary school has grown tremendously over its eight-year tenure—from 107 kindergarten and first grade students during the 2014–15 school year to 340 students from preschool to fifth grade for the 2021–22 school year. Compass’s explicitly inclusive, anti-racist outlook has attracted students and families from all walks of life, with its commitment to student exploration, community collaboration, and restorative justice setting the stage for individual and collective growth. Compass illustrates that schools that are intentionally diverse must go beyond simply ensuring their student bodies are racially and socioeconomically mixed; they must pay keen attention to ensuring all students of all backgrounds and abilities feel they belong and can thrive in school. Compass successfully fosters a welcoming and just learning environment for every learner in its diverse community through a deliberate use of progressive, culturally responsive, and equity-oriented educational practices.
The result of Compass’s progressive approach is an adaptable set of practices that any school serving a diverse mix of students should pay attention to in order to learn how to holistically meet students’ various needs.
Intentionally Diverse and Progressive from the Start
When initially conceptualized, Compass leadership hoped to bring progressive education to Crown Heights—a then predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn. From 2012 to 2016, Brooklyn experienced the largest citywide increase in its white population, jumping 32 percentage points, particularly in the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Bedford–Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, and Prospect Heights (which borders Crown Heights). Ultimately, New York’s Board of Regents authorized Compass in Fort Greene, where it shares a building with M.S. 113 (the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center). According to NYU’s Furman Center, Fort Greene’s Black population decreased by 21.5 percentage points from 2000 to 2019, whereas its white population has increased by roughly the same amount. During this same time period, Fort Greene’s Hispanic population decreased from 19 percent of the total to 12 percent, while its Asian population increased from 4 percent to 11 percent. Although affluent households have long held a majority in the area, the share of families earning an income between $100,000 and $250,000 has jumped from a quarter to over a third in the past two decades. Additionally, the proportion of households earning more than $250,000 annually has more than doubled, from 8 percent to 17 percent. These demographic shifts create recruitment challenges for schools like Compass who strive to cultivate an intentionally diverse learning community.
In the face of rising gentrification in Fort Greene, Compass targets its recruitment outreach to the underrepresented families who have remained in and around Fort Greene for generations. Meeting families where they are is a priority. Whether visiting town halls, meeting with public housing residents’ associations, connecting with local Head Start programs, or advertising via Facebook or a local laundromat, Compass is constantly refining its strategies to reach families with the greatest need but limited access to play-based, progressive education. The school expanded to include Pre-K in 2018, creating greater opportunity to recruit diverse students and retain them over several years. To fulfill Compass’s mission of being a diverse-by-design charter, 50 percent of its open seats are reserved for economically disadvantaged students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch. During the 2020–21 school year, a quarter of Compass students had disabilities and nearly a third qualified as economically disadvantaged. Its in recent charter renewal, Compass raised its priority to fill a greater share of its seats with economically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities, and English Language Learners (ELLs).
To fulfill Compass’s mission of being a diverse-by-design charter, 50 percent of its open seats are reserved for economically disadvantaged students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
Moreover, Compass is the only independent, single charter school in New York City with a citywide enrollment preference—a distinction common among charter management organizations (CMOs) such as KIPP, but not independent charters. A citywide preference allows Compass to enroll students from across New York City, not just Brooklyn or its community zone, District 13. The citywide preference is a pathway toward increasing the diversity of applicants. Nevertheless, school leadership is mindful that commuting long distances to and from school isn’t a feasible option for many students and their families. Recruitment constraints be as they may, Compass remains committed to adapting its systems, strategies, and structures to create a more integrated, welcoming community. This commitment is reflected in the progressive instructional practices they adopt which introduce students to the plethora of intellectual and interpersonal skills they need to develop to be successful in an increasingly diverse world.
Student Growth through Integrated Models of Learning
Forest School is merely one key component of the inquiry-centric curriculum employed at Compass. Its curriculum is guided by integrated units of studies (similar to social studies) and sustainability (akin to science). While the school follows the state’s Common Core Standards, it also adheres to the Education for Sustainability standards (EfS). EfS comes through a partnership with The Cloud Institute, a program centered on reorienting education to advance sustainable development. At Compass, all classrooms use natural materials, with students learning to recycle, take care of various animals, and compost (prior to the city pausing its compost program). In addition, a variety of instructional resources, such as those from Learning for Justice, are also used to develop Compass’s ever-evolving antiracism curriculum and strengthen staff’s ability to meaningfully engage with students about identity formation and understanding its complexities, at the personal and collective level. Through these resources and standards, staff cultivate a common culture rooted in a mutual respect for human difference and deep appreciation for the environment. Igniting students’ curiosity and nurturing their sense of justice happens in tandem with providing space for them to insert their lived experience into the curriculum.
Each grade level has its own central integrated study, based around a particular theme. In kindergarten, students participate in the family, garden, and identity studies, while in the fifth grade, this year’s study focused on democracy and government. For Compass teachers such as Mel Allan, these studies require intentional planning that ties together various interconnected units into a cohesive engaging lesson. Mel explains, “How can I make those topics and the essential questions for the unit come alive across the day? Not just writing to write or doing phonics in isolation the whole day.”
Guiding questions, informed by students’ interest, underpin each project pursued at Compass. Nazneen Patel, a curriculum coordinator and instructional coach at Compass, explains, “In our future ideal world, those integrated units and those big questions are the centerpiece of the entire curriculum. From there, we’re teaching all the fifth graders [close and strategic] reading skills and standards, but we’re reading texts that are supporting their study of the government.” Those texts include graphic novels such as Fault Lines in the Constitution and court decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson. On the math front, fifth graders learn about fractions by interpreting polling data and discussing the implications of history such as the Three-fifths Compromise. The school also partnered with a consultant to develop a K–5 gender and sexuality curriculum that is woven throughout the integrated unit topics. Embedding developmentally appropriate identity work into the school’s curriculum enables students to gradually strengthen their abilities to have deep conversations about their world and who they are within it. By seriously engaging with these topics, students learn the value of exploration, sustainability, and critical inquiry.
Families recognize the positive impacts of the curriculum on their students’ development. Kira, a parent of a preschooler and second grader, said, “In my younger child’s experience, I think that he has a hundred percent thrived. Compass has encouraged his curiosities and has actually opened up the possibilities for him. . . . I think [its] philosophy is all about asking questions and curiosity, so I feel like he’s not so afraid to make mistakes. As far as my older one, I think that what he’s gained is a real appreciation for reading and literacy. . . . [He’s learned] that writing gives him a sense of freedom and a sense of expression.”
At Compass, students are provided opportunities to connect their lived experiences to their studies. Learning is about the application of skills and engaging with various interconnected disciplines. As Kira said, “Math, reading, writing are a way to interact with the world. They’re not just stuff to learn. It’s a way to be more of yourself. It’s a way to interact with what’s happening around you.” Each unit of study is intentionally planned to make connections back to the study’s central theme and equip students with the skills to consciously reflect on the connections they make. Through a purposeful interplay of student interest and teacher guidance, learning outcomes are achieved while celebrating the prior knowledge and heritage students enter the classroom with. What happens outside the classroom is integrated into daily instruction, and vice versa. Nevertheless, the integration does not halt at Compass’ curriculum.
Integrated co-teaching (ICT) and looping are two key design features of Compass’ instructional approach. With the ICT model, every Compass classroom has two teachers—one general education teacher and one special education teacher. “We value co-teaching and center collaborative planning, with the two teachers looking ahead at lessons, at units—thinking about how to meet the needs of the students that have [IEPs] mandated, having small groups. . . . There’s a lot of differentiation in each classroom,” explains Suzanne Vera, the director of student and staff development at Compass. That differentiation is important when serving students with diverse needs. Co-teachers adapt their workstyles to meet common goals, always with an emphasis on centering student need and voice. “We try to pull on a variety of instructional models here. I would say inquiry is what we’re working to actualize across our classroom and our school most heavily.” says Mel, who is the special education certified teacher in her classroom. The meaningful collaborative instruction also shrinks the student–teacher ratio, expanding each classroom’s ability to provide individualized student support.
Through looping, co-teachers move up with the same classroom for two years (Kindergarten–first; second–third; fourth–fifth). Looping is particularly beneficial for developing strong student–teacher relationships. The consistent cycling deepens teachers’ knowledge of students’ learning styles and background, giving them ample time to learn best practices for supporting the student’s growth. Researchers have found small but significant academic gains from looping, particularly among Black students, with potential spillover benefits from learning in classrooms with other looped students. Even more, loops provide families with a longer opportunity to develop close relationships. Those established connections became increasingly vital when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and schools transitioned to virtual learning. “I do like the continuity,” said Stepha, a parent of a rising third grader and rising first grader. “With my class, which was the rising first grade class, we were able to have several conversations during the summer [of 2020] because we already knew each other. . . . We already had some information where we [could] gather up and get some meetings together.” These meetings and conversations, which are discussed in the sections below, often centered on creating ways to support the community during the pandemic, as resource gaps between high and low-income families became more apparent.
These key resources include information and assistance navigating school district processes such as the middle school application. Throughout the fall and spring, Nazneen holds a workshop series for families to learn about the process logistics, choosing a school of best fit, and reading school data to make informed decisions. This series includes a special designation forum for families with students in priority groups (such as socioeconomically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners). Here, families learn about their rights and gain a better understanding of what middle school choices exist for their students. Having a dedicated individual to support families through the process makes a meaningful difference in students’ academic trajectories.
In Compass’s fifth grade class, 56 percent of students have one or more priority group designations. This year, 91 percent of these priority group students received middle school admission offers to their first or second choice school, Nazneen reports. The achievement comes in the wake of New York City freezing competitive screening practices used at 37 percent of its middle schools. This system-level change, albeit temporary, dramatically improved the diversity of the applicant pool. “Kids that normally might not have even bothered to apply are getting access to those schools and those programs, and that’s a really, really big deal,” Nazneen expressed. Celebrating these victories is important as the city works to improve its extremely segregated schools. Nonetheless, before students make their way to middle school, Compass staff works together to create a learning environment that comprehensively supports students’ academic and socioemotional growth.
Embodied Transformation through Staff Role-Modeling
Collaboration is the driving force behind Compass’s agenda-setting and decision making. There are a variety of teams established to distribute leadership and responsibilities in a manner that maximizes the school’s capacity to meet student needs. These teams focus on a variety of functional components in the school, including student support, executive leadership, positive behavioral intervention systems (PBIS), restorative justice, and Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) facilitation. The intentional interdependence between teams ensures consistent access to necessary support and guidance across the staff. As Compass’s social worker Stephanie Douglass said, “Collaboration is crucial because it helps me to understand different perspectives in the school, and different perspectives coming together is what actually helps to, I think, move equity work forward, number one, but also really center students. Students are the unifying thing.”
Compass adopts an array of foundational routines to strengthen staff alignment and fulfill its vision of an equitable, student-centered learning experience. All staff meetings follow a clear agenda: open with a grounding (similar to a check-in or icebreaker) to get the team on the same page; share any appreciations; and specify the type of meeting (for example, interactive versus information share). The structure prepares the team for what’s ahead so everyone can focus their energy and attention constructively. “We set that up because we want people to know what they’re about to step into so that they can get embodied, and they can listen differently—or they can comport themselves differently [and] can prepare their minds and bodies,” Nazneen said.
The same meeting structure is also practiced during family conferences, held three times throughout the year. Based on where students are in their loop, conferences help to identify specific learning goals for the year, share student progress, or exchange recommendations for summer programming. The 2021–22 academic year was the first time Compass included students in the conferences, giving them the opportunity to present their work, build their confidence in speaking for themselves, and be active participants in their own learning. During these conferences, particular restorative justice practices, such as “having all participants speak and sharing airtime,” are used to mirror techniques applied during staff meetings, Suzanne said. Consistent role modeling amongst staff is beneficial for students and families who learn their voices and input are valued elements of the community.
Embodiment is the heart of transformative work at Compass, with embodied transformation stemming from the school’s philosophy that everyone is a learner who can consistently improve their skills through active practice, reflection, and adaptation. Every Wednesday, Compass shortens its school day by three hours, releasing students at 1:00 p.m. to dedicate time for professional development and collaborative planning. A focal component of its professional learning community is learning how to integrate restorative justice practices into instruction. Staff read copies of Circle Forward, a comprehensive resource guide to cultivating a classroom rooted in restorative justice. Suzanne said, “When we think about being restorative, we think about the human, the environment, [and] the world. You can put in [actions] like saying a land acknowledgment. You can do all of those things, but it’s really about how it gets down to your own individual practices for your community as you go into different levels of this work. We’re at that level now, I think, where it’s just infused into most of the things that we’re doing.” Deepening restorative work necessitates role-modeling the behaviors Compass strives to nurture throughout its community, such as active listening, presence, and mindfulness. If students are to grow in their intellectual and emotional capacities, they must learn in settings where teachers routinely demonstrate these behaviors.
Nazneen said, “Embodied transformation is a lot of self work people have to do to get into an integrity around what the right work is. . . . Embodied transformation to me means being really present, knowing your content, and knowing it well enough to feel okay when it goes here or there in response to student interest. [It’s] being okay with abandoning it because something happened in your classroom that requires immediate redress.”
Achieving a deep level of content knowledge and conflict resolution skills comes with time. The transformation is not immediate, nor does it happen in isolation. Recognizing this reality, staff have the opportunity to deepen their self-work through SEED seminars (or circles), which began during the 2018–19 school year. SEED’s methodology emphasizes equipping participants with skills “to connect our lives to one another and to society at large by acknowledging systems of power, oppression, and privilege.” SEED’s processes and curriculum are meant to be adapted to fit the needs of the partnering school.
“Embodied transformation to me means being really present, knowing your content, and knowing it well enough to feel okay when it goes here or there in response to student interest. It’s being okay with abandoning it because something happened in your classroom that requires immediate redress.”
Sitting together, circle participants (or pairs) are given time to reflect on a particular prompt before going around for “serial testimony.” Giving each individual equal airtime, it is their choice to share or remain silent. The number of rounds varies based on the number of prompts, with the concluding round typically being a debrief using “cross talk”—where participants may speak in any order. The circles are an exercise in storytelling and creating space for new perspectives that may complicate participants’ assumptions about identity, ability, and equity.
In its traditional format, SEED circles are three-hour monthly seminars. However, after the pandemic struck, Compass transitioned to a virtual model with two ninety-minute meetings each month. The circles would occasionally run over time. “There’s always more to say,” Stephanie shared, making reference to a common SEED saying. The circles have contributed a mindset shift about the importance of examining how staff “access broader themes and content like windows and mirrors,” and embed said themes into instructional practices. Compass also offers community SEED circles specifically for its families interested in deepening their self-work. There are four Compass staffers who are SEED facilitators, including Nazneen and Stephanie. Meanwhile, teachers not on the SEED team still learn the necessary skills to facilitate restorative circles within their classrooms.
Recalling an incident during the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, Nazneen shared how two Black co-teachers pivoted their classroom agenda to immediately address inappropriate behavior that occurred during a community gathering—a weekly morning meeting where families are invited to join students and faculty in the gym for announcements, engaging programming, and singing. While watching a video about appreciating Black hair, some white third graders were seen snickering and laughing. Nazneen said:
They [the co-teachers] had a lot of plans for instruction that day, but when they saw that . . . and then they hear from their Black students that felt really unsafe and icky . . . they shut everything down and they had a restorative circle around this topic. The teachers communicated with the families about this restorative circle. They shared the questions that they asked . . . [and] that conversation trickled throughout the week where it was returning again and again to the idea that we are in an integrated community, so that type of stuff can never happen again.
This type of immediate response to explicitly acknowledge and repair harm are fundamental to fostering inclusivity and safety across the community. These conversations are not always easy to have, but working through discomfort as it emerges is what propels both personal and collective growth at Compass.
Moreover, Compass is committed to using trauma-informed practices in its education and service delivery. Stephanie brought ten years of social work experience, including providing immediate support to crime victims, before joining Compass in 2016. In transitioning to school social work, she said she wanted to illuminate “how social-emotional learning can be entwined with academics in a way that is really holistically supporting students and families.” Applying this lens became increasingly necessary as the community navigated and began processing the collective trauma of COVID-19. “Everyone has a relationship with trauma,” Stephanie said, and shifting how Compass addressed and accommodated for each person’s unique relationship took on newfound importance. Through consistent support and counseling, the student support team, including several social work interns, worked to build positive relationships and create flexible plans to meet students socioemotional and academic goals.
The consistency of restorative and trauma-informed routines allows staff to focus on improving their attunement of classroom needs. Transparent, direct communication across teams became easier as clear expectations and common language diffused throughout the school. “It’s the proactivity, not the reactivity,” Stephanie said, that allows the collaborative ethos of Compass to transform into responsive, positive relationships between staff and families. Through deliberate coordination, the school’s capacity to provide equitable, tangible support continues to grow.
Community Engagement through Podding and Affinity Spaces
Surviving the isolation induced by the pandemic pushed many Compass families to come together and share the resources they had access to. Relationships throughout the school community are fostered through the Family School Collaborative (FSC)—Compass’ version of a parent–teacher association (PTA). The FSC is co-chaired by two parents, currently Stepha and Lauren, and one staff lead, Stephanie Douglass. The collaborative strives to support families by organizing social events, fundraising, and relaying community needs to the school. Stepha and Lauren transitioned into their roles amid the pandemic, after becoming friends when their children “podded” together.
Prior to Stepha and Lauren’s tenure, the previous FSC co-chairs established twelve pods—small learning groups where families were matched together to exchange resources while Compass was remote. Pods sought to serve two primary functions: providing childcare and supporting students’ academic growth through tutoring. Participating in a pod was optional, and did come at a cost, but to increase accessibility, payment was on a sliding scale. Stephanie said, “[if] somebody wanted to participate in a pod and they didn’t have the funds to pay for a tutor, the FSC raised money to fund for that family.” Working through the multitude of podding logistics pushed the FSC to critically reflect about the spectrum of privilege and disparity in the community. “Compass did try to do a lot of wealth distribution and mutual aid to ensure that all families could access pods,” Lauren said. Interviewed community members were honest that not all families could participate in pods, but “the goal was for it to be equitable,” Stepha said. Despite the challenges, the program was successful in creating spaces for connection and aid during tiring times.
Pods were particularly beneficial for participating children. Lauren, a parent of a rising first grader and rising third grader, said, “podding allowed for people who were much more qualified than [my husband and me] to keep our kiddos on track as much as possible.” Stepha echoed that with a similar sentiment about podding’s benefits for her younger son in particular: “He was in pre-K [and] transitioning from a completely different school environment so he needed to make those friends, and to have some sense of normalcy.” As the mothers came together as FSC co-chairs, they worked to continue the conversation about using mutual aid to fill the resource gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged families.
Community members who allocate time to supporting the goals of Compass and providing constructive feedback acknowledge their ability to do is a privilege. Kira said, “Not all parents are coming from a place of being on the school app all the time. Not all parents are working nine to five, some are working nights. Some are parenting five, six children, [and] some are stay-at-home moms.” Kira joined Compass during the 2019–20 school year, with the pandemic shaping her degree of involvement with the school. She, and many other parents, sustained themselves and families through acts of community care. “Everybody can help one person if they’re in trouble . . . because the next month it might be you who needs the babysitting or who needs the meal or who needs the break.” Communal reciprocity helped to enrich families’ relationships to one another, but the pandemic continued to expose other vulnerabilities that needed redress in the community.
With parents then able to listen to their children’s virtual classes, they had an opportunity to hear the conversations about race and racism Compass integrated into its curriculum. While students learned to identify instances of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, privilege, and oppression, their families continued to navigate an America grappling with the severity of its systemic racism in real time. Affinity spaces became an avenue for Compass parents with marginalized identities to openly discuss their lived experiences in a community of others who could relate to them. A Black affinity group was established right before the summer of 2020 with its theme focused on celebrating Black joy.
Shortly after the Black affinity group began, amid local surges in anti-Asian violence, Kira (who is Japanese American) recognized a need to increase dialogue about racism beyond the white–Black binary. Joining together with another parent who is Chinese American, the mothers created the Asian and Asian American affinity group. “We were going through a lot of trauma,” Kira said, “and it just felt like how can we [process our trauma] in a space where we can really get it out [and] analyze it.” The group’s name is a conscious choice, made to acknowledge how some families solely identify as Asian, not American or Asian American. The deliberate naming reflects an earnestness to respect differences in how their community identifies itself. Their attention to detail helps the group be more inclusive of all Asian and Asian American families at Compass. The group has discussed a variety of themes and concepts, including the meaning of home, raising multiracial children, and positioning Asian and Asian American stories in the nonbinary setting of racialized experience.
At Compass, there is also a Latinx affinity group and a group for parents of students with disabilities. Nazneen supported the groups’ development, sharing facilitative practices to give the groups shape and structure. Nonetheless, each group tailors its activities and discussions based on participant input. Stepha, who took over the Black affinity group with another parent this year, spoke to a painting party for Black families held in February. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know people . . . and everybody just hanging out on a Saturday was really, really awesome.” Creating these intentional, supportive spaces matters when working to cultivate a more inclusive community. “It’s just having the space to be,” Stepha said.
The FSC has made changes to its scheduling and messaging to families to overcome some accessibility barriers, but the team is aware not all families have the ability to consistently engage with Compass due to various external responsibilities. While families may lack bandwidth to participate, Lauren said that the FSC continues to consider, “How do we incorporate voices that aren’t there to speak for themselves in a direct way?” This mindfulness goes a long way in making Compass a more inclusive community. Engagement constraints aside, the efforts pursued by the FSC and affinity spaces are pivotal steps toward making all families at Compass feel welcomed. Their work will continue to evolve as the groups empower and learn from one another. “I’m excited about the collaborations,” Kira said, “but I think that those collaborations can only happen when you do have a sense of safety and openness and vulnerability and being seen.” As the visibility increases, so does Compass’s capacity to better accommodate the needs of all its families.
Key Takeaways from Compass’s Progress toward Embodied Transformation
If you visit Fort Greene Park today, you’ll see a young beech tree growing a few feet away from a tree stump. The stump belongs to a beech tree cut down by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The new tree was planted after Compass students protested and wrote letters advocating for its replacement. This direct action demonstrates how the sustainable ethos embedded into Compass’s practices have impacts far beyond the classroom, as the school equips its students with the skills to challenge the status quo and create positive impacts in their community.
Progress within Compass’s community is driven by intentional reflection, consistent collaboration, and responsiveness to feedback. Suzanne, who is transitioning into an assistant principal role, noted that developing strong relationships and building trust with students and their families is an essential commitment to create a welcoming, integrated community. Moreover, embodying equity is not only an investment in critical self-reflection; it is also the conscious delivery of personal and community resources to those without access to the same means. Communicating expectations clearly, creating common language, and developing more precise service delivery is paramount to advancing equity work, said Nazneen, who is also transitioning to an assistant principal role. Taken together, embodied transformation is greater than the sum of its parts, but Compass demonstrates that each of those parts needs to be thoroughly understood and consistently practiced to enact sustainable change
For other schools seeking to bring greater intentionality into their learning communities, the following informed practices are recommended:
- Center student voice and interest. Offer immersive learning experiences that allow children’s curiosity to blossom and provide classroom resources that are windows into new perspectives and mirrors of students’ lived experiences. Implementing restorative and trauma-informed practices, instead of punitive practices, extends students the dignity and humanity they deserve. “The most important thing for me is that a student comes here and they feel as close to as loved as they do at home,” Suzanne said.
- Create spaces for agency and affinity. In order to process trauma and safely heal, it’s valuable for families of similar identities to come together and affirm their lived experiences. The functions of affinity spaces are fluid but they create a necessary visibility for marginalized communities who face persistent racism, classism, ableism, and/or xenophobia. SEED and restorative circles can be beneficial tools for deeper perspective-taking and honest reflection.
- Plan proactively and adapt accordingly. Intentional planning and consistent communication about nonnegotiable expectations helps minimize anxiety and efficiently distribute leadership across teams. Shared routines create a solid foundation for future exploration and iterative innovation, helping schools strike a “loose-tight balance,” Stephanie said.
- Slow down, assess, and reflect on goals collaboratively. Equity work can not be rushed or advanced in isolation. When goal setting, open the door for community members, students, and staff to exchange contrasting perspectives and identify gaps that need to be filled. Through collaboration and mutual accountability, the school community can begin shifting its mindset and progressing toward key outcomes.
- Expand your comfort having difficult conversations. Explicitly naming one’s connection to systems of privilege, power, and oppression (both in schools and out) can be challenging. However, strengthening this skill is crucial to advancing school and community integration. Remain cognizant of what advantages you have and can distribute to others, and vocalize when you notice voices missing at the decision-making or reconciliation table.