By Karla E. Vigil and Carlon Howard
Currently, RI’s education workforce is over 95 percent white. With less than 5 percent of educators identifying at people of color, our urban students are faced with teachers and content each day that do not reflect their lived experiences both in and outside of the school day. And while we know that diversifying the teacher workforce is a process that will not happen overnight, it is crucial that we identify, support and build opportunities for educators of color now, growing a movement that values and honors their backgrounds, abilities and craft.
Some of Our Questions
Why aren’t there enough educators that represent student identities and backgrounds within our city’s school system? Why are high school students using history textbooks that are nearly 2,000 pages and only less than 100 of those pages are dedicated to people of color? Why aren’t educators receiving trainings on how to be culturally competent? How can we recruit and retain teachers of color? How can we include student voice in our lessons/curriculum? How can we ensure that educators are using culturally relevant teaching principles in their classrooms? What can we do to dismantle institutional racism?
EduLeaders of Color R.I. Meetups creates a space where people of color can come together to address systemic inequities that exist in RI’s schools. It also aims to elevate the leadership, voice and influence of historically marginalized groups in the RI education system and community. The meetups serve as a safe space where educators and community leaders can share projects, ideas and resources. The space welcomes ALL but specifically concentrates on supporting groups of people that are underrepresented and marginalized.
EduLeaders of Color RI Meetups began in November 2016. Each gathering has been successful in bringing people of color and allies together, in one space, to network and build. For example, January 2017’s meetup brought over 50 participants together for a night of networking, organizing and learning about two new Providence-based social ventures, The Fellowship for Educators for Equity and Diversity (F.E.E.D.) and Diversity Talks. F.E.E.D is dedicated to recruiting and retaining teachers from underrepresented backgrounds. Diversity Talks aims to promote student-led professional development for teachers that focuses on issues of identity and equity in education. Each social venture grew from StartupWeekendEDU Providence, organized and supported by the Highlander Institute in October 2016.
Since the first meetup in late Fall 2016, EduLeaders of Color RI has opened its ranks to high school students in RI. Newly created long-term goals for the group, created by attendees and organizers, include developing strategies and policies to address educational inequities impacting students from all backgrounds, including race, gender, class, ability and sexual orientation. In fact, social venture Diversity Talks was created by a team that includes a high school student at Providence’s Met School. It has been a priority of the group since the onset to not only prioritize the voice of youth at the meetups but to also create programming and supports for the educational system with their voice and guidance.
The Next meetup will take place February 23rd from [5:30]-7pm at the Business Innovation Factory.
Karla E. Vigil currently works as an Education Strategies Specialist at Highlander Institute. Much of her work involves coaching and supporting teachers, specifically around culturally relevant teaching principles and blended learning. Before joining Highlander, Karla taught 4th grade at the Blackstone Valley Prep. Elementary School. Karla earned her Master’s Degree in teaching through the Gordon Residency Program with Roger Williams University. Karla’s passion relates to social justice issues, activism and equity in education. Karla was born in El Salvador and now lives in East Providence with her partner and two sons.
Carlon Howard serves with City Year Providence as an Impact Manager where he oversees the implementation of the Whole School Whole Child service model at a local elementary school. Before entering his current role with City Year Providence, Carlon taught 5th-grade math as a Teach for America-Rhode Island corps member and was an Urban Leaders Fellow under Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston (Colorado Senate District 33). Carlon is a social entrepreneur dedicated to exploring innovative ways to solve some of our country’s most pressing problems. He recently helped found the Fellowship for Educators for Equity and Diversity (F.E.E.D.) – a non-profit aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers from historically under-served communities. Carlon graduated from the University of Georgia with undergraduate degrees in Criminal Justice and Political Science. During his time at the University of Georgia, Carlon led several student organizations, was a Richard B. Russell Leadership Fellow, and was recognized as Pandora Yearbook’s Outstanding Senior Leader. Recently, he completed a graduate degree in education from Rhode Island College.