Support BIPOC Whistleblowers

Feature image from KUOW

Recently, KUOW published information about the practice of putting children, mostly Black and Brown special education students, in cages. More distressing than the practice is the fact that the practice, itself, is approved by policy in Seattle Public Schools.

The educator who blew the whistle, named in the KUOW piece, is Jackie Flaherty. Jackie is a veteran kindergarten educator and a Black woman. The Executive Director of WAESN, Tracy Castro-Gill, spoke with Jackie recently. Jackie explained that she has always received negative treatment from the principal who resided over this practice, Ed Roos, but that negative treatment and retaliation intensified when she started to push back against harmful student discipline practices, like locking children in cages.

Many in our community are offering support to the families and students being impacted by this practice – and rightly so. For that reason, WAESN, whose members are overwhelmingly educators, is working to provide support for Jackie and other BIPOC whistleblowers. Without them, justice can never be met, and SPS has a horrible track record when it comes to anti-racist educators who blow the whistle on their harmful practices.

Please join WAESN in supporting Jackie and demanding that, in addition to dismantling abusive, racist discipline policies, SPS protect Jackie and other BIPOC educators, who will no longer be silent witnesses to racial trauma in our schools, from retaliation.

Signing the petition below will send a message to all of the school board directors letting them know you demand they change their discipline policy and protect Jackie and other BIPOC whistleblowers from retaliation.

Support BIPOC Whistle Blowers

School Board Directors

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OSPI Ethnic Studies Failure

Directors and members of WAESN have been participating in and following the work of the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s work on the legally mandated creation of a K-12 model Ethnic Studies Curriculum. WAESN board president, Amanda Hubbard, is an official member of this committee and has witnessed fragile whiteness in both the leadership of this committee and the creation of the framework. WAESN board members have held several meetings with Senator Bob Hasegawa, a sponsor of the ethnic studies legislation, and Superintendent Chris Reykdal to outline our concerns and advocate for a course correction, but we have seen only further backsliding into whitewashing of this important effort.

WAESN board members co-authored a letter to Superintendent Reykdal outlining our concerns and demands for change that could lead to a more authentic, BIPOC-centered model curriculum. If you are interested in supporting our advocacy, there is a petition you can sign that will send a letter to Senator Hasegawa, Superintendent Reykdal, and the OSPI Social Studies lead who facilitates the committee, Jerry Price, and his supervisor, Kathe Taylor, OSPI Assistant Superintendent.

Superintendent Reykdal,

We, the Executive Team and Youth Advisory Board of Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN), are writing to you today to address concerns we have with the Washington State Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee. Our Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill, and two of our Board Directors, Amanda Hubbard and Jeff Stone, have been present during several meetings that were very troubling. Tracy and Amanda have raised their concerns regarding the disproportionate representation of white members on the committee and asked that better outreach and recruitment efforts for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of Color) members with experience in Ethnic Studies be conducted. 

The entire process started off in the culture of white supremacy when the lead role was assigned to a white man, Jerry Price, who lacks any expertise or experience in Ethnic Studies and was given the role simply because he’s the social studies lead, which is evidence of the systemic failure to understand that Ethnic Studies was born from the efforts and struggle of groups of Color. Assigning Ethnic Studies to social studies further demonstrates a lack of understanding at OSPI about the scope of Ethnic Studies. Additionally, there is concern that several members of the committee don’t have a basic understanding of anti-racism and/or Ethnic Studies. At least one member has made statements regarding Ethnic Studies epistemological ideology stating that it’s “problematic” and “divisive” and called Tracy a racist for demanding voices of Color be centered in this work. It is disconcerting to us that someone who makes these statements is involved in creating a model Ethnic Studies curriculum for the State, and this is a reflection of the systemic racism that prevents authentic, anti-racist intitiatives from succeeding.

Tracy and Amanda have repeatedly asked for these issues to be addressed in committee meetings, and though Nasue and Jerry conducted one-on-one interviews with all involved, we feel that our concerns were largely unheard and dismissed. At that point, we sent our concerns as WAESN to Jerry. After we initially shared our concerns with Jerry Price, Nasue Nishida, and Kathe Taylor in April, Jerry and Nasue created learning opportunities for members of the committee. Unfortunately, not every member took advantage of the opportunities, including those who need the most help. Tracy had a phone conversation with Kathe, who indicated she would “circle back,” but we have yet to hear from her. Additionally, it is problematic that OSPI is taking time to “train” white members instead of recruiting experienced and highly qualified BIPOC members. This is an example of institutionalized racism where unqualified white educators are privileged over qualified BIPOC educators. Institutionalized racism is also at work when BIPOC experts are expected to teach white committee members instead of being part of decision making. This is the antithesis of the tenets and goals of Ethnic Studies and anti-racism.

We are supporting Tracy and Amanda’s call for better outreach to:

  • BIPOC students 
  • BIPOC families
  • BIPOC educators, including BIPOC Ethnic Studies professors

who meet these minimum requirements:

  • proven experience in leading discussions on anti-racism and/or Ethnic Studies
  • documented work on creating and/or implementing Ethnic Studies curriculum
  • proven advocacy of Ethnic Studies programs.

WAESN formed to advocate and support Ethnic Studies programs Statewide, and part of that advocacy is protecting the integrity of Ethnic Studies in its creation and implementation. We are available and prepared to assist you in this effort. Our organization has members from across the State of Washington who have created a network of critical, anti-racist educators. Please reach out to us for any assistance you may need.

Demand a BIPOC-centered Ethnic Studies Committee and Model Curriculum for Washington State

Superintendent Reykdal,

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Remove Denise Juneau; An open letter to the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors

By Rita Green, NAACP Education Chair for Washington, Oregon, and Alaska

Recently, the King County NAACP, in support of the Washington State NAACP Youth Council, called for the removal of Superintendent Denise Juneau. Below is a detailed rationale for their actions written by Rita Green.

To support the efforts of the NAACP, please sign the petition at the end of this open letter.

Denise Juneau continues to fail our students and our community as outlined below. Chandra Hampson is one board member that is trying to hold the district accountable and as a result an erroneous complaint has been filed against her.  SPS has a historical issue of running amuck and does not like the fact that there is finally a board member who is astute enough to ask challenging questions and demand results for all students, particularly students that the District continues to fail. The board’s push for serious performance audits of programs at the District, with the audit firm reporting directly to the board, is long overdue.  We need to hold the district accountable and this is one mechanism to assure they are. We believe that Director Hampson should continue to push for racial equity within SPS and that Denise Juneau’s contracted needs to be ended immediately.

The organizations and people in support of Juneau have adult relationships and skin in the game via programs they are receiving payment from the District for or hope to receive payment for. They are not thinking about ALL SPS students, just their personal benefits. This role is not about someone’s personal gains, this is about students’ lives. The fact that Juneau has failed to collaborate with anyone that she does not see can be a benefit to her is an issue.  This job is not about individuals; it is about the systemic issues that need to be addressed.

Juneau has failed the community, school system, teachers, leadership, families, and students by poor:

1. Communication

2. Recording, figuring out recording systems

3. Reset of expectations and human resources

4. Providing support services particularly to students when unfortunate things happen in the classroom 

At $250,000 plus a year we expect for a Superintendent to come in and hit the ground running. We believe Superintendent Juneau has failed to move Seattle Public Schools in the right direction for the long term, and students, families, and our community are suffering because of her poor leadership. We do not have time to wait for her to get up to speed as our students’ lives are being negatively impacted.

Juneau does not prepare or share concrete details as she is incapable because she lacks the understanding of the issues at hand. Much like Trump, Juneau does not seek authentic engagement. She only seeks input from those that will agree with what she wants to hear.

She lacks vision and takes credit for work that was already done without giving credit where credit is due. The African American Male program was implemented before Juneau’s arrival and the design was a collaboration of the community and SPS.  The work that is being done is a result of relationships that tenured SPS employees have in the community.

She claims to be a person of color, yet she has done more harm to students, staff, and families of color than previous SPS Superintendents. She does not even have strong ties to the Native community. Juneau displays a pattern of discriminatory behaviors towards people she deems to be powerless.

In order to move the strategic plan and the district forward, it is imperative that we remove Juneau and hire an interim Superintendent that is willing to collaborate with all and not a select few.  Collaborate means to work jointly on an activity to produce or create something. Merely stating that you meet with groups is not collaboration. Never having the answers for or following through with commitments that she makes to community partners is not collaboration either.  

COVID-19 Crisis 

We’re here for families. It is great for Juneau to say 30k laptops were delivered (We have 53K students). Were they working? SPS was – and is – far behind other districts due to Juneau’s firing of the Chief Information Officer and demoting the IT position.  This caused our response to be slow as we did not have a person with the experience needed to handle the IT needs that were thrust upon the District. Currently students are using the professional version of Teams, not the one designed for schools. The group chat for classes can be accessed by students who are not in the class.  All they need is to have the teacher for another class period. If they do, they can see the chat for all the teachers’ classes. This is because the wrong version was used and operationalized. 

Reasons NOT to reinstate Denise Juneau:

I have compiled a list of reasons why Denise Juneau’s SPS contract should not be extended and/or renewed. This list includes input from more than 30 Community Organizations, SPS Staff, Educators, and Family members. Some organizations are requesting an immediate end to Denise Juneau’s contract.

We are calling for an overhaul of the SPS Strategic Plan. We want to see Black and Brown professionals represented on all levels of district staffing and regular and ongoing open meetings with Black and Brown CBO’s, families, youth and elders. We want accountability, transparency, and systemic change.

Please note that there are many issues that have not been included below and there are many issues that those who provided input below are unaware of, so this is not an exhaustive list, but is a list with enough issues that support not continuing a relationship with the current Superintendent.

1.    Staffing Issues:

a.    ­ Purging nearly all administrators of Color from her small cabinet while appointing and promoting more than a dozen white women.

–        While some African American men have been recently hired, they are in lower level non decision-making positions. They have no historical knowledge to understand they are not being told the truth.

b.    Lack of support for African American Principals

c.    HR is failing to support staff experiencing issues with supervisors, pushing them back to unsafe environments.

–        A lack of exit interview process leads to the continued disproportionate discipline of staff of color.

–        Juneau has failed to hold Clover Codd, Chief of Human Resources, accountable for her failures brought to light by KUOW, ­creating a dangerous, toxic and traumatic environment for staff and leading to an increase in lawsuits brought by parents, students and staff.

–        Juneau’s personal attacks against the Ethnic Studies Program Manager (an educator of color), have created an environment of fear and intimidation for other educators of Color.

–        Juneau refuses to apologize for transgressions and offenses.

b.    Many teachers are reaching out to the NAACP for support because of experiencing racial trauma on the job.

2.    SPS continues to feed the School to Prison Pipeline by not addressing to Racist Staff and Educators:

a. ­   There has been no improvement in Black and Brown suspensions.

b.      There have been approximately 300 calls to Seattle Police Department which resulted in arrests of students.

–     ­Why are calls continuing to be made disproportionately on Black and Brown students?

–     Calls are being made on students in elementary school.  This is unacceptable and must be addressed.

3.    Minimizing/Ignoring Hate Issues targeted towards People of Color:

a.       ­­Juneau did no ot investigating Swastikas at McGilvra Elementary School.  

–     Juneau considered this normal vandalism, when it is a crime for hatred.  

–     This was done by former students and 2019-20 students that were allowed to graduate with no consequences to these racist actions.  

 b.       Juneau has not addressed Leschi racial incidents.

 c.    ­   Juneau consistently puts white educators in lead positions of strategic plan goals meant to impact students of Color, including a culturally responsive workforce and recruiting and retaining educators of Color.

d.    There has been an increase in lawsuits brought by parents of color. Recently $350K was settled and two $500K suits are pending.

4.    Attack on any group focusing on improving outcomes for Students of Color

­a.    ­ There has been a lack of collaboration with leaders in the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group (ESAG). 

 ­b.     ERAC, the Superintendent’s Equity and Race Advisory Committee to address educational equity practices in our schools and central office, has been dismantled. Prior to it being dismantled it was mainly white people making decisions and giving input for BIPOC  communities and families. 

5.    Attack on Ethnic Studies

a.     ­Personal attack on Ethnic Studies Program Manager (a Woman of Color) who has received nothing but praise from non-racist educators, students, and communities that are pushing for Ethnic Studies.

–        Juneau wrote a letter to have the Program Manager’s teaching certificate pulled. (Yet, she has not addressed racial issues impacting Students of Color)

–        These types of personal attacks are Trumpian like tactics and are unprofessional behavior for a Superintendent.

b.       Juneau has remained silent while the curriculum department continues to water down and whitewash anti-racist curriculum.

c.       The District has not paying the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group for their work on curriculum or professional development

–        This was an effort to slow the forward progress of implementing Ethnic Studies in SPS.

d.       ­Juneau ignored and dismissed input from the community about the removal of the Ethnic Studies Program Manager.

e.       Juneau placed an unqualified leader to head Ethnic Studies (Diane Debacker).

f.        ESAG was not part of a selection process for Kyle Konishita’s replacement

g.       Juneau was caught instructing groups not to work with groups focused on moving Ethnic Studies forward.

h.       Juneau told the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group that they were “wasting time” on Black Lives Matter at School curriculum and that it wasn’t their job. 

6.    IEP/Special Education

a.       Overall concerns exist that IEPs are not being taken seriously and Special Need students are not at the forefront, which plays into our lack of graduating students prepared for life.  And has a greater negative impact on students of color.

b.       The Partnership with Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA) was terminated, removing unduplicated programs serving low income, Special Education, and high need American Indian/Alaskan Native students.

c.       Proper assessment for students of color are not being conducted.

–  SPS is graduating students who have dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia without providing them the proper services, sending them into the world to face economic and employment challenges.

–  This also contributes to the pipeline to prison. 

–  These students are smart, but they do not know it because they never understand or are taught their style of learning and how their brain processes information and learning. 

7.    Placing administrators in buildings without an interview process that includes students, families, and community despite agreement to continue this process that had been working well and improving over time: 

a.      ­The discontinuance of this process has led to many bad decisions in administrators and has led to lawsuits against SPS.

b.      ­Juneau is complicit in the appointment of new principal at Licton Springs without any Licton Springs parent voice or discussions. 

c.       Juneau regularly moves poor performing principals to other schools who have little or no parent advocacy groups and often in highly populated English language learning communities. 

8.    Failure to work with school communities/ Lack of collaboration with CBOs

a.        Juneau initially refused to hold meetings with the NAACP. 

–        Previous Superintendents had recurring meetings with the NAACP.

–        Upon pointing out that Engagement was included in her evaluation, she recently began to meet with the NAACP local branch; unsatisfactory on family engagement on her evaluation is why she started meeting with NAACP.

–        She does not attend the entire meeting.

–        She is using the meeting to check a box.

–        Nothing is being resolved. Discussions are about goals on items that should already be in place.

–        Juneau is unprepared and does not follow up on questions that are being asked.

b.    ­ Failure of Superintendent to bridge Native based CBO’s with students for resources, financial support and other assistance.

–        ­  ­Juneau has canceled partnerships with Native and Black focused CBOs.

–        ­  Juneau refused to include any CBO representation of American Indian/Alaskan Native groups on the Strategic Plan.

–        ­   There has been failure under Denise Juneau leadership to engage with the community or parents in meaningful and inclusive problem solving related to COVID 19 and School closure issues.

–        ­  ­ Juneau has been unresponsive to American Indian/Alaskan Native parents, elders, and community calling for the restoration of Indian Heritage H.S.

–        ­  Juneau has been unresponsive to parent and community outrage and opposition to the removal of and transition to a remote school with no transportation plan for parents seeking a Native focused education for their students.

­9.    Youth Engagement Failures

a.       ­ Juneau is responsible for the removal of a youth group focused on empowering youth of color at Mercer Middle School.

b.       ­ Youth have left the Superintendent’s advisory group as a result of her failure to take the youth seriously. 

c.       Youth feel like they were only used as a check box and their input was not valued.

­­ 10. Failure to ‘move the needle’ for American Indian/Alaskan Native drop out, completion of high school, and disciplinary actions

­a.          Much of any change is a result of the alleged manipulation of data and push out of Native families from SPS.

This list was compiled by the NAACP with input from various organizations, students, teachers, staff, and parents.

Please remove Juneau immediately so that she will stop harming our students and so that we can get on to the business of educating students effectively.

Fire Superintendent Juneau

Board Directors,

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Petition: Fire Superintendent Denise Juneau

On October 5th, youth leaders of the NAACP Youth Council demanded that Superintendent Juneau be terminated. Below is an excerpt of the speech given by Angelina Riley, co-president of the NAACP Youth Council, outlining the reasons why they are demanding her termination.

One mission of Washington Ethnic Studies Now is to center the voices of BIPOC students, and we are doing that by assisting the NAACP Youth Council in collecting signatures on a petition. By signing the below petition, you will show your support for BIPOC youth and send a message to each director of the Seattle Public Schools school board.

Fire Superintendent Juneau

Board Directors,

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In addition to being NAACP Youth Council co-president, Angelina is the founder of Black Minds Matter, a Southend activist, and winner of the Black Education Matters student activist award.

I was a former member of two years for the Superintendent Juneau’s advisory board, and on July 10th of this year, I, and the majority of our original members, formally resigned for a couple of reasons that I’ll explain. I joined the board back in November of 2018 with the promise that my voice would be heard, and that students in schools across the district would be represented, and, unfortunately, throughout my time with the board I didn’t see that happening, and I would come to find that my voice made little to no difference to the system of schooling or the different operatives that our schools had.

On several occasions where we’d ask for transparency or demanded more seats at the table, we were turned away, and we were given tasks that did not relate to the lists of issues that we planned to discuss when the group was first brainstorming its list of demands and its purpose at its birth. And though we had a few occasions where we were able to have slight input on the strategic plan, we didn’t really see many of our ideas reflected in the final product. So, we demanded several changes throughout the years to the structure of the board itself, including a student-elected cabinet and the removal of City Year, which were, you know, individuals who specialize in discussion facilitation, which we felt wasn’t really necessary for a discussion between a superintendent and youth, and that demand wasn’t met.

Furthermore, the one year ban on SPD [Seattle Police Department] in Seattle Public Schools that was made the week after I, and others in the community, started to push for these changes – Superintendent had initially created that ban for one year with no plan on how different communities would be consulted with. She never consulted with us – her advisory board – or organizers, which she knew, who were on the front lines, and we felt ignored. We felt like she wasn’t engaging with us.

My next point is education is emancipation. As Aneesa had reminded us – and I say this all a lot – the district strategic plan states over, and over again that they will center students furthest from educational justice; however, the superintendent terminated a partnership with the program meant to create a curriculum that centers Black and Indigenous history without consulting her advisory board, and, specifically, students furthest from educational justice. We just want to reiterate that courses that center Black and Brown stories and curriculum that acknowledges our complex history, yet affirms our greatness is important. And, in doing so [terminating the partnership], she has extended inequities that exist in our education, which further effects the future of our society. Those actions perpetuate anti-Blackness, and they perpetuate racism at a time where millions of people are in the streets protesting for liberation. It has shown us that she does not value Black voices, and without honoring Black student voices, they’re neglecting Black education, which is ultimately our liberation. It is subtly showing us that we don’t matter, and we know that all lives won’t matter until Black lives do.

We also want to acknowledge the treatment of our former ethnic studies manager and other SPS staff who have been removed in unethical manners, including being escorted out of the Seattle Public Schools John Stanford building; and the 300 calls to SPD and 40 arrests in one school year; the placement of white staff members with no personal background on BIPOC American experiences in position made to benefit Black students from those communities. We want to acknowledge the lack of follow through on dismantling the HCC [highly capable cohort]. We want to acknowledge the white washing of anti-racist curriculum; the leading with ego; the lack of family engagement; the lack of student engagement.

We want to make this clear that my education the education of my peers is not a service issue.

This is about the fact that I watched my classmates lose interest in every class for years.

It’s about my Black peers that I watched get physically assaulted by teachers and by staff members.

It’s about this fight for Black girls in our schools who are being over-disciplined and criminalized from young ages.

It’s about Black students who feel they need to assimilate to [white] culture in order to get closer to opportunities that their white counterparts do not have to work as hard to be recognized for.

It’s about how our Black Lives Matter week is confined to a week and is only recognized when one of us is murdered.

This is about the fight for LGBT+ youth in our schools who hardly ever get the support they deserve when someone incites hatred towards them.

This is the fight for special education students in my school.

It’s a fight for the students who come to school hungry and don’t find the nutrients they need in our lunches. It’s a fight for educational rights that’s personal, because we’re the only ones the district fails, and we’re the last generation of students that they will fail and that this educational system will fail.

Fire Superintendent Juneau

Board Directors,

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WAESN Voting Guide 2020

As a 501(c)(4), one of Washington Ethnic Studies Now’s (WAESN) purposes is to advocate at all levels of government for the advancement of Ethnic Studies and anti-racist practices and policies in public education. As such, we are providing our first, ever, election guide with our choices for state and national level candidates, resolutions, advisory votes, and referendums. We surveyed members of our Executive Team and Advisory Board to determine our recommendations.

Political Offices

President of the United States of America

Joe Biden is the candidate with over 71.4% of our board members’ support. Howie Hawkins received 14.3% of our vote, as did “nobody,” which was an option for all elected positions. This endorsement is more about opposing Trump, and very much not about supporting Biden. Biden holds a lot of responsibility for today’s mass incarceration of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous men and its far-reaching repercussions. 

To be quite honest, there is no candidate we are endorsing this cycle that received our enthusiastic support. More than any election year I can remember, this year is more about holding on to hope out of fear of fascism. Joe Biden is nobody’s first choice at WAESN, but we are endorsing his candidacy, nonetheless.

Washington State Governor

Jay Inslee is the candidate we’re endorsing for Washington State Governor. He received 85.7% of the board members’ support. The other 14.3% went to “nobody.” Governor Inslee receives a decent amount of support from WAESN because of the strong stands he’s taken against Trump’s xenophobic and fascist policies. 

WAESN would feel better about supporting Governor Inslee if he more vocally supported current racial justice movements, including Black Lives Matter, defunding the police, and abolishing ICE. We hope that Governor Inslee uses this upcoming term to surrender some of his power and authority to leaders of Color, particularly grassroots leaders and organizations to move faster toward racial justice in our state.

Washington State Lieutenant Governor

The endorsement for Lieutenant Governor is split 50/50% between Denny Heck and Marko Liias. These are two, mediocre, white, male candidates, both Democrats, each with their strengths. Both have ties to education. Marko supports labor organizing and Denny has a lot of experience as an elected. There’s really nothing that stands out as extraordinary about either candidate.

Washington Secretary of State

Gael Tarleton receives our endorsement with 66.7% of our board members’ vote. The other 33.3% went to “nobody.” Again, this is more a vote against the Republican candidate than support for Tarleton. 

Tarleton has more experience than Wyman, and therefore is more qualified, but this is a race between two mediocre white women who have done nothing for BIPOC citizens of Washington State. Tarleton has been a politician in Washington for 12 years with nothing significant to claim as an accomplishment.

Washington State Treasurer

Duane Davidson is the current, Republican treasurer, which is one reason we are endorsing his opponent, Mike Pellicciotti. Davidson laments about state debt while supporting the regressive tax structure in our state that harms working-class citizens, who are disproportionately BIPOC citizens, and benefits our state’s most wealthy residents. 

While we are not excited about endorsing Pellicciotti (he received 83.3% of the board members’ votes, with the remaining votes going to “nobody”), he does have a record of social justice work. Should he win the election, we would like to see him advocate progressive tax structures and redistribute tax revenue to support BIPOC communities, particularly for education.

Washington State Auditor

I feel like a broken record. We are endorsing Pat McCarthy for auditor but for no other reason than her opponent being such a horrible option. McCarthy received 66.7% of our board members’ votes with 33.3% going to “nobody.” Neither candidate has experience in politics, except McCarthy, whose only experience is her current position as state auditor. 

Her opponent, Chris Leyba, is a cop. Nope. Is this a joke? A police officer as state auditor? They can’t hold themselves accountable. How are we supposed to trust them to hold an entire state accountable?

Washington State Attorney General

Bob Ferguson is the candidate that comes closest to receiving an enthusiastic endorsement from WAESN, having earned 100% of our board members’ votes. I suppose now is the best time to say #WashingtonElectionsSoWhite. We support Ferguson for defense of our Constitutional rights that have come under attack by our current president, but we would love to see candidates of Color who would kick it up a notch (or several).

While Ferguson has earned our support, we call on him to do more about migrant babies in concentration camps and stop the persecution and deportation of Latinx migrants and other migrants of Color. We also ask that he try to look less like Bill Gates.

Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands

Here we go again… WAESN is endorsing Hilary Franz for commissioner of public lands with 83.3% of our board members’ votes, but only because her opponent is a Republican. The remaining votes went to “nobody.” On paper, Franz’s opponent, Sue Kuel Pederson, has more expertise on land management, but WAESN cannot support any candidate from a party that so fervently denies climate science. 

Unfortunately, neither candidate mentioned climate change as an issue that needs to be addressed, nor did either candidate address tribal sovereignty and the land rights of Indigenous tribes. Whomever is elected to this position needs to do a better job, or we need to advocate more qualified candidates to run.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction

This position brings us to our first conundrum. WAESN is endorsing Chris Reykdal over his Latina opponent, Maia Espinoza, with 85.7% of the board’s votes. The remaining votes went to “nobody.” WAESN is very specific in supporting and amplifying the voices of BIPOC, especially in leadership positions, but we cannot get behind Espinoza.

Most notably, Espinoza calls for a halt to mandatory sex education in schools stating that it, “exposes our children to inappropriate material like teaching 4th graders about sexual positions and teacher-led role play.” This is absurd. Reykdal has supported this legislation, as does WAESN. WAESN has recently connected with Reykdal about some of our concerns and demands around racial justice in education. We have hope that he will do the right thing.

Washington State Insurance Commissioner

Mike Kreidler received 66.7% of our board members’ votes with the remaining votes going to “nobody.” This is another situation in which WAESN is supporting a white man over his BIPOC opponent, Chirayu Avinash Patel. Kreidler is the more experienced candidate, but that’s about all we can say about him; another mediocre candidate.

Reasons we can’t support Patel, other than his party affiliation, include the fact that he lists Reagan, Jefferson, and Nixon as some of his role models. He also states he wants to use this office to advance his desire to major in every subject in college. It’s unfortunate that we can’t support the BIPOC candidate.


Referendum 90 Mandatory K-12 Sexual Health Education

One hundred percent of our board members voted to approve this referendum. It’s significant to note that all of our Executive Team members are educators and all of our Advisory Board members are BIPOC students. Research overwhelmingly supports implementing sexual education curriculum to improve outcomes for young people, including

  • increased self-esteem;
  • increased confidence to engage in consensual relationships;
  • decreased teen pregnancy rates; and
  • decreased STD rates.

Advisory Votes 32-35

To save time and space, I am combining these issues here, all of which deal with tax on business in various forms. WAESN is in favor of voting to maintain all of these taxes. In our opinion, businesses in our state are not taxed enough, which has led to scarce resources for education. Additionally, some of the taxes, including the tax on carry-out bags, encourage more environmentally sustainable practices.

Joint Resolution 8212 Investing Public Money

WAESN supports a yes vote for this resolution with 66.6% of the board members’ votes, but with the understanding that it’s complicated. WAESN is an organization that centers BIPOC youth, and the reality is that young people are at risk of not receiving social security benefits when they’re ready to retire, and BIPOC are disproportionately impacted by changes in social security.

WAESN does not support privatizing public funds, but there isn’t a better solution on the table. It is our hope that we can provide stronger social security programs, in general, that don’t require us to depend on capitalists. At the same time, we can’t allow people to slip through the cracks while we wait for a better solution.

Open Letter to SPS: Mobilize the Immobilized

By Alex Ng

Open Letter to Seattle Public Schools Students, Families, Educators, and Communities

“We need to mobilize what works.” – Dr. Nicole Law

Seattle School District leaders consistently do just the opposite. They immobilize what works, even after it has been proven to work. They impede and stall the work our communities call for, and take away from educators the very tools that work to serve our students in this time of dual pandemics. They immobilize ethnic studies by dismissing educators of color most dedicated to this critical work our communities of color are yearning for. They take away platforms like Zoom even after SpEd specialists and families tell us this works better than Teams to meet the needs of our students. Seattle School District leaders immobilize what works, perhaps because they fear the outcomes of a truly just public education system that uplifts our students’ inherent greatness instead of crushing it.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) accepts and perpetuates incompetence in central office leadership, knowing the most dedicated, most passionate educators at the school-level will step up time and time again to fill in the gaps and fix what central office staff left broken. This is a viscous cycle of inequity and incompetence that leads to defeated teachers and inequitable educational conditions being passed on to students because even the most dedicated, most passionate educators at the school-level can’t possibly fill all the gaps or fix all the broken things central office leaders so willingly passed onto us.

In their directives and desire to wrestle local control way from schools, SPS leaders are causing enormous, unnecessary stress and anxiety for educators, students, and families. They are not prioritizing the uniqueness of each school community, despite explicitly saying they believe in doing so. As with so many inequities and injustices in the time of COVID-19, SPS leaders are further revealing their disregard and disrespect for educators, students, and families. From not paying educators for planning and leading professional development for the entire district and betraying their own official communication and heaping uncertainty onto school communities, to simply being absentee leaders and passing unpaid labor onto classroom educators, Seattle School District leaders are showing themselves for who they have always been: middle managers earning 6 and 7 digit salaries with no real commitment to the communities they are supposed to serve.

Seattle students, families, and educators deserve better. We deserve better than perpetual incompetence. We deserve better than leaders who pay lip service to equity only to reinforce inequities through their rigidity. We deserve better than their casual disregard for the needs of our communities. We need leaders who live the words of Dr. Nicole Law: leaders who mobilize what works.

Ethnic Studies Kitchen Conversations with April Berg

In June of 2020 WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill, and Board Director, Jeff Stone, were invited to discuss Ethnic Studies with April Berg, Democratic candidate for State Representative in the 44th District. The conversation included everything from what is Ethnic Studies, to who should teach it, and the status of Ethnic Studies in Washington State.

Below is the video of that conversation followed by the transcript.

April: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Kitchen Conversations. I’m April Berg. It’s great to see you. I’m excited about today’s episode. We’re gonna talk about ethnic studies in K-12 education, and welcome Jeff and Tracy to my kitchen. I wish you were here live, but cheers. Hopefully you have a yummy beverage to enjoy while we have this, this conversation about such an important topic. Just to let you folks at home and, uh, and on the go know, Tracy, uh, Castro-Gill is the Executive Director of Washington Ethnic Studies Now, and Jeff Stone is a director with Washington Ethnic Studies Now. He’s also lead, um, ethnic studies instructor for the ethnic – Edmonds School District.

Welcome both to my show. Thank you so much for being here today, um, and thank you for, for talking to us about this important subject. 

Tracy: Thank you.

April: So, yeah. So, I’m gonna kick it off, um, for, for Tracy and Jeff, both of you guys can chime in on this one. It’s super basic. What is ethnic studies?

Long pause and laughter.

Tracy: Um. You wanna go first, Jeff?

Jeff: Sure. Um, the thing about ethnic studies, it’s not what most people think it originally is. And so, uh, kinda some basic ideas of that, it’s  – ethnic studies is a repurposing of schools, uh, really away from an assimilationist model, uh, working towards education being a space of liberation. Um, and that idea of liberation is when it gets complicated, uh, to be polite in terms of what that looks like in each space. Um, one of the – some of the big things that, that to make a space of liberation is that we, uh, all the curriculum, the courses, the departments, uh, it all works to center and honor the past, present and future realities faced, uh, and Black, Inidgenous, uh, Latinx, Asian communities – Pacific Islander communities, um, and it’s really moving away from a white, Eurocentric, uh, storyline.

April: mhm, mhm

Jeff: Tracy – wanna continue?

Tracy: Yeah, I think a lot of people, when they hear ethnic studies, they think of their only exposure to ethnic studies at the university level where it’s very compartmentalized. Uh, we, at Washington Ethnic Studies Now, follow more of what Dr. Duncan-Andrade calls pan-ethnic studies, which is the critical analysis of race, and power, and privilege in the United States, and colonialism. And so, like Jeff said, um, it really focuses on indigeneity, and I know a lot of people kind of ruffle their feathers, especially in the Pacific Northwest where there is a, uh, large degree of indivenous influence from, um, indigenous Pacific Northwest People, but indigeneity is a concept that applies to everybody because all of us have ancestors that are indigenous to somewhere, and if it’s not indigenous to here, what does that mean in context for you? How do- how do power dynamics play out in that. And so, ethnic studies, um, really critically analyzes that in a way that is systemic – systematic – in, in institutions. And so, like Jeff said, we don’t think of Washington – at Washington Ethnic Studies Now – we don’t think of ethnic studies as curriculum, we see it as education reform.

April: mhm. That’s powerful. So that’s – it’s a lot broader. Because, I think for me, I was introduced to ethnic studies in the university, in a predominantly white university, and so it was very compartmentalized. It was very much like, “You’ve got your one quarter. Check that box and keep it moving.” Um, so when, when folks are asking in this moment, “So, does ethnic studies – does that include Black history?” “Well, if I – if I’m learning about ethnic and having that as a curriculum framework, will that include something like Black history?”

Tracy: Yes! So, uh, the way it’s contextualized for us is, ethnic studies is a broader, um, subject, and then within ethnic studies you can, like, you know, narrow it down to Black Studies, Native American Studies, Asian American Studies. I will say that there’s not total agreement in the State of Washington about Native American Studies being part of ethnic studies, and I wanna honor that. Like, some tribes, um, don’t want to be identified as ethnicities because they are tribal sovereignties. Whereas, in other places, like in California, the – the tribal sovereignties there are working with ethnic studies curriculum. So, we just have to honor, you know, what different, um, tribes – how they would like to, um, present themselves in the curriculum. And so, I wanna be clear in Washington State, we are following the law which is using, uh, Since Time Immemorial curriculum. Um, but, you know, when you’re talking about power and oppression, you also have to talk about how this land was stolen from indigenous people here.

April: mhm. That’s huge. That’s absolutely huge. And, so, as we talk about it and – and it being more broad and not compartmentalized, is it something that can be done in a K-12 setting? Is it something that can be buildable? Um, you know, is there a place for a kindergartner to know something about ethnic studies as well as a 12th grader?

Jeff: Absolutely. Um, it – it is K-12. I mean it’s K – K-20, um, but we think about the K-12 system, and, uh, our, our the, our youngest at five year – five years old and six years old, uh, they’re experiencing the, the realities; they’re experiencing systems of oppression. They’re, they, they know what joy and liberation looks like, um, and we – they are – the students are able to understand and learn, uh, about that in greater detail. I mean, it’s, it’s – it’s everywhere, and it – well it should be everywhere. So. . .

April: mhm

Tracy: Yeah, I think a – a good resource is the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards that are K-12 standards, and the, the direct – I, I also am the Ethnic Studies Program Manager for Seattle Public Schools, and the direction we were going is in the grades [K-2] the focus was fairness and how do we treat people, and how do we love and see our differences. Uh, and then I was also working with Dr. LaTaSha Levy, who teaches Ethnic Studies at the UW and, uh, is a Black Studies scholar, and she really pushed us to start with what she calls origins and agency. So, you know, she taught us that we have to first build students up because their humanity has been so degraded, um, because of colonization and anti-Blackness. We have to build students up with their identity so that they are safe enough in their identity to have these conversations about oppression later on. 

April: And that’s huge. I love the way you put that: the origins and agency, um, because I think as we talk about lots of different pieces of our curriculum in K-12, agency is a big piece of it, and developing that at a young age in a student is powerful. Um, but to your point about how sometimes mindsets get – get, um, made because of colonization and different things, um, you know, the question about the first thing for me, as a student, I learned about Black history was slavery. Right? That’s – that’s it. And you had said something powerful earlier, Tracy, about slavery and if it – if it’s even a part of Black history, so could you share that with folks? Cuz it kinda hit me, like, right here.

Tracy: Yeah, uh, my favorite example this year is, cuz, you know, as teachers we all love that light bulb moment, but we see it with adults, too. It doesn’t – it’s not reserved for children. So, I was doing, um, – I wasn’t even at a training. I was having a discussion with the building leadership team at an elementary school in Seattle, and it was a – it’s a mostly, um, POC school, but not very many Black students, right? So, it’s mostly Asian students. And a white teacher said, “When I’m teaching in, um, Black History Month about slavery, how do I prevent all the kids from looking at the one Black kid in the class?” And I said, “Well, first of all, you’re framing it incorrectly, because slavery is white people history. White people did that.” So, if you’re teaching slavery during Black History Month, you’re not truly teaching Black history unless you’re talking about how slavery interrupted Black history, right?

April: Wow.

Tracy: And so, just, and ethnic studies really pushes us as educators to reframe and create counter narratives to these “master narratives,” right? So we’ve been told that Black history in the United States, like you said, starts with slavery, but no! White people did that! That is white people history. They are the actors in that.

April: Wow. So that – you saw my light bulb moment about ten minutes ago when we had that conversation, and it’s still – even when you – yeah, that – I just, I hope folks really heard that because I think that you’re right with that we’re teaching slavery during Black history, that’s the wrong moment. It – it interrupted our history. It does not define it. It is not the beginning, middle, and end. So, um, thank you for sharing that because it – I, I hope it really hit home with some folks. Um, so, so that brings us to teaching ethnic studies, right? So, it’s – it’s a framework and it’s important how that framework is presented and who it’s presented by, so can you, um, tell me your thoughts – both of your thoughts on, on who should be teaching ethnic studies and – and pan-ethnic studies, as you put it?

Jeff: Do you wanna start, Tracy?

Tracy: Um – I’m gonna let Jeff start this one.

Jeff: Ok. Um, really when it comes down to it, when possible, and we all know our K-12 systems. Um, they are white teacher heavy. Um, we – we mean, if, uh, outside of Seattle if you’re, I would say if, if you have, uh, 10% of your staff being, uh, educators of color, that’s a  – that’s pretty normal. Um, and so, one of the things that, uh, actually – we make it even more challenging is, like, in certain domains, uh, social studies, English, science, you can get it to the point where there are – it’s almost entirely, or entirely, white educators. So, the first off is, who teaches it is really important. Um, and so, the first thing is, if you can have a critical educator of color teaching ethnic studies, that is the first choice, um, but as I noted – hinted at, not all systems will, uh, have critical educators of Color, uh, in their just to begin with, and so, it’s after that, um, that we begin to look at what you need is – you know, well-trained, critical, white, scholars doing this one as the back-up plan.

April: mhm, mhm

Tracy: I wanna add to that, that even in systems that may have, uh, critical educators of Color, oftentimes it’s a violent place for educators of Color to be, and especially an educator of Color who is challenging the system. Uh, and so your system might have a critical educator of Color who does not feel comfortable stepping into that position, and we should not expect educators of Color to step into that position, and so that’s where a critical, anti-racist white educator might come in and, and take the heat that’s gonna come with doing that, right? 

Um, I wanna also – sorry, my street’s really loud. Well, I’m gonna also focus on the critical piece, right? Because what happens oftentimes is educators of Color are tokenized and put into these positions just because they are a person of Color when they may not have the background, or maybe just as toxic as the next white teacher, right? So, we have, for instance, Black teachers who say, “All lives matter.” They shouldn’t be teaching ethnic studies, right? We have, uh, Latinx or Chicano teachers who say, you know, “I don’t use the term ‘Chicano’ because I’m American,” like they shouldn’t be ethnic studies teachers because they’re not critically analyzing race and, and these terms that we use to define people! So, um, I just want to point that out. It’s – being a person of Color doesn’t automatically qualify you to teach ethnic studies.

April: Absolutely. Well, and I’m glad you did point that out, because I think right now we are having conversations about nuances, and – and one that I like to really point out is that our communities are not monoliths, right? So, we’ve got huge diversity in – diversity in thought within our communities and I welcome it. I love that, but it does mean that in all spaces, our voices aren’t the ones, maybe, that should be prominent depending on, you know, where we’re coming from. Um, you know, I – I studied history in college. Um, my focus was African history, right?  So, if you put me into a traditional Black studies class and said, “April, you’re Black, you’ve lived – you’ve got lived experience, now go teach everybody else about being Black,” that’s not my space, right? That’s not what I could communicate on effectively nor what I was, you know, taught, um, in terms of, uh, being a teacher in that space. So, anyway, I’m putting that out there because I think that as leaders and leaders of Color, we’re oftentimes tokenized in that manner and I think that’s one thing that really should be discussed more, um, and just people should be cognizant of it. So, thank you for bringing that up. Um, and I think the connection to both of you guys made was to that anti-racism work, and, so, those going hand-in-hand. So, you have a teacher who’s doing critical race theory, but also a strong background in anti-racism work. So, thank you for that. 

Um, so, what can community members  – what can the folks at home, the folks in their kitchen listening – what can they do to move the ball in ethnic studies in their community, in their schools? Um, and maybe, you know, Tracy’s sharing with us, I know you work with Seattle Public Schools, and just that journey and what maybe that would look like and then Jeff definitely chiming in cuz you’ve got more of a suburban point of view, as well. So?

Tracy: Um, there will be pushback! Um, I was writing an article based on some interviews that I did with some ethnic studies educators in the state, and I came to the realization that there’s not one, single example of  an ethnic studies program in our country that has not faced the threat of dismantling – of being dismantled, and it’s happening in Seattle right now. Um, I’m being pushed out of the district, um, but that’s where community comes in, right? Community comes in because they don’t have the fear of retaliation. Uh, they live – tend – you know, administrators tend to listen to family and students more than they do educators. Um, I will also – I’ve been, um, reminded, recently, that parents and students do face retaliation because students have been retaliated against because of the advocacy of parents, so that – that is a fear, also. But, teachers often face being fired and losing their livelihood, right? So, I think that magic happens when students and community and educators come together and fight together and come up with the strategy together. And that’s one of the roles of Washington Ethnic Studies Now. So we are educators who have been doing this work for years, and, you know, there’s a sudden interest I’ll – you know, in ethnic studies because of the current sociopolitical, um, activities and, and news, but we’ve been here for years! Like, we’re ready to go! We’ve been ready to go, and we kind of formed this organization because the school districts aren’t going fast enough. And so, we formed this organization to push in and, and support those educators where we can and without the fear of being fired, right? Um, so I think that’s where it lies; it’s forming – it doesn’t have to be formal organizations, but networks of people that support each other and show up and, yeah…

April: Yeah. That’s super huge. Jeff, did you have anything you wanted to say on…?

Jeff: Yeah, I just, uh, I think about what the, the – the power of, uh, students, uh, in particular. That’s one of the – of my biases. Um, I, I – I – is students. And so, I think about in, in, uh, Edmonds, uh, one of the most powerful forces that brought ethnic studies was student petitions; students, uh, demanding from their administrators that, that it be brought into their buildings. Um, and so, that’s how it started in Edmonds going on four years ago. Um, and it’s, it’s great. I mean, what others do, it’s – we’ve got one school resist via petition, but anytime students are bringing it up, that’s been like, the, the thing that moves administrators, uh, and departments forward is when the students demand it. Because, I mean, you really can’t say, “No,” to students, um, if you’re in education!  Uh, at least you shouldn’t. So, students are just, to me, like, the, the most powerful group, uh, in bringing ethnic studies into spaces.

April: Well, and I think, um, I think you bring to a point, because when I think about students and the power students, um, in the collaboration that you’re talking about, Tracy, because it’s, it’s not just the students; it’s collaborating with community and with the educators, but most of those students tend to be in high school, right? Like, I mean they tend to be of, of an age where they have agency; where they’re like, “I’ve experienced X, Y, and Z, and I need to – I need more from my, my, my, uh, educators.” So, but it really is, to your point, a K-12, um, proposition. So, I’m thinking about the legislature. I’m thinking about movements, um, you mentioned Since Time Immemorial curriculum, right? That was a legislative, um, policy that we said, “Yep, this is gonna be taught in our schools.” So, what can we do from that level – at the legislative level to, um, have kind of this movement undergirded, you know, with this has to be taught in some manner?

Jeff laughs.

Tracy: There is legislation – it – that exists currently, uh, sponsored by Senator Hasegawa for, um, it’s a suggested model curriculum and there is a committee at the OSPI who’s working on that; however, the language in the, in the legislation, itself, is very watered down and it’s what we would call multiculturalism and not – it’s not anti-racist at all. There are people who are on the committee who are pushing for it to be anti-racist, but that committee was formed through a white-normed process, and so there are some people on the committee who probably shouldn’t be there because they don’t understand ethnic studies or are actually opposed to ethnic studies and anti-racism. And so, Jeff and I have been pushing hard on, on that committee to recognize that, and they are working on, on some changes, but it – it’s not enough. For example, there’s one Black educator on that committee.

April: Wow.

Tracy: Um, Right? And so…

April: Yeah, no. I’m saying, “Wow,” and I’m in education spaces. I’m like, “Wait, what?”

Tracy: Right? Um, and so, we’re pushing for that. One thing – one of our goals as Washington Ethnic Studies Now is to work on legislation, and we’ve met with Senator Hasegawa, and it’s, it’s in the works to meet him again, um, to have some legislation around mandatory anti-racist PD, or professional development, for pre-service teachers, so while they’re, you know, working on becoming teachers and getting their certificate. But also, I just had a conversation with Alexandra Manuel who’s the president of the, um, Professional Standards – Professional Education Standards Board, um, and we talked about having it be part of the recertification process. So for example, right now, as teachers that, uh, we have to have so many hours of STEM professional development, why can’t we also mandate so many hours of anti-racist – and not anti – bias…

April: Yes, anti-racism. 

Tracy: clear distinction – anti-racist professional development in order to recertify in the state? 

April: That’s huge, and I guess, I didn’t, um, yeah, that PD piece of it and cracking that, um, that piece will be huge because it is, I think huge, um, I’m an advocate of more PD, more days paid for PD for our teachers and professionals. They need it. They deserve it. Um, and I think having something like anti-racism work worked into that would be really powerful because I’m, I’m hearing from staff even in our own district saying, “We want it! We want this training. We want these tools. We want this vocabulary so that we can do the work that needs to be done.” So, that’s, um, that’s a great way to look at it. 

We’re getting some awesome questions from our friends, both on our webinar and on Facebook. Um, so, one is from one of our Facebook friends. Um, Tracy spoke about their – who shouldn’t be ethnic studies teachers. What would make someone equipped to be an ethnic studies teacher in either of your perspectives. And, I think you covered a little bit, but, like, if you just wanted to sum it up in terms of that, yeah – that anti-racist perspective. 

Tracy: Well, of course, someone who has an ethnic studies degree (laughs) would be ideal. Um, but, you know, I work – the people I work with in Seattle Public Schools, I think zero of them have ethnic studies degrees. I think one has, like, a Black Studies degree, and maybe two have Black Studies degrees. Um, my de – my undergraduate degree is in Social Sciences. So, if somebody who has studied and worked with, or had professional development in critical race theory, um, and ethnic studies, because even though critical race theory is part of ethnic studies, they’re not synonymous; so, you need critical race theory to teach ethnic studies. Um, but, yeah, I think – and that’s another thing we talked about with the- with, uh, Alexandra Manuel is, uh, mini-cert; some kind of certification that teachers can get to qualify them to teach ethnic studies. So, that’s – that’s been talked about, too. Um, yeah, somebody who has a deep knowledge and understanding of critical race theory and then professional development in ethnic studies, and that’s another goal of Washington Ethnic Studies Now is – is to provide those opportunities because there – there’s a void. There’s not a lot of people who have expertise in ethnic studies, uh, especially in Washington State. I know Dr. Wayne Au is – is one of our experts here, and so that’s another service that we want to provide to people because we were missing it in, in our work.

April: That’s huge. Um, another question, which is kind of along the same lines. Everybody’s thinking, like do you need to be a certified teaching – certified, uh, in teaching ethnic studies, or  vetted in some way. Is there a process or courses you need to take for certification. Uh, one of our webinar folks have asked that, and I think you kind of covered it, Tracy, but I think the work you’re doing – so I guess to take a it a step further, if I am a, um, new teacher or maybe I’m coming into the profession from a professional background, and I’m like, “Yep, I want to come in and teach ethnic studies,” would I contact your organization to get kind of that additional certification or, or what would I do?

Jeff: Executive Director, I’ll let you answer that one!


April: It’s like, either one!

Tracy: We are not, um, you know, we’re not capable of, of giving certification to people. Our work is advocacy, and so, we are talking to people who make those decisions and advocating for that process. Right now there isn’t a process. It’s up to, um, the district, and a lot of times, superintendents and principals who make those hiring decisions. And so, we would encourage them and hope that they are vetting people and looking at their undergraduate degrees and seeing if they have experience or, you know, what their racial equity work history looks like. Um, but, like I said earlier, oftentimes we’re just seeing people of Color tokenized, or, um, you know, an example of this district wants to do ethnic studies and their curriculum person at the district is a white woman, so they’re gonna move ahead with her anyways, even though they know they shouldn’t because they don’t wanna hire an extra person to do the work, right? That’s usually what happens, and it should not happen that way. It should not. And, um, you know, we call those “named leaders” versus emergent leaders and,  and they’re leading the work just because they were named a leader and not because they have any qualifications to do it. So, I think that’s a big concern, too. 

April: That’s huge. Um, so, another question which I – I’d love this question. Um, so, let’s say you’ve got an undergraduate degree in ethnic studies, what would be – how, um, so I guess the exact question is, um, have there been talks about ways for folks with undergraduate degrees in ethnic studies to be able to get teaching certificates?

Jeff and Tracy shake their heads to indicate, “No.”

Jeff: I haven’t heard of anything specific. Um…

April: M’kay.

Jeff: I think – I mean it – if I were in the, you know, the, the post-secondary world, and looking at the masters in teaching programs, and the such, I mean that’s a barrier – financial and, and, and time – um, but, like, that would be an asset, uh, coming into a program, uh, is that, that background – the, the ethnic studies degree, but…

April: Well, and the way I think of it, too, is a lot of programs, um, when I look online, right? You can do, uh, undergrad, um, in English and then also do your masters in teaching at the same time and it seems very, you know, put together and seamless, um, but I think it – for Ethnic Studies, is, is that would be a great – yeah, it’s probably not for our, you know, for the three of us to answer and fix today, but I’m going, “Huh, like, that should be a thing. Like, that should be entered seamlessly,” because Jeff, when you mentioned having 10%, um, you know, faculty of Color at particular school districts, I’m thinking that’s a moon shot right now for some of the districts I’m thinking about. I mean, honestly, cuz we’re looking at, like, 2%, maybe 3%. Um, so 10 would be like our 5 year plan.

Tracy: I think another barrier is people want to put ethnic studies in social studies, and, like Jeff said, social studies is dominated by white men, especially at the high school level. Um, and ethnic studies should be its own program; its own curriculum program. It should not be part of social studies, and a lot of people can’t wrap their minds around that. So, I think that that’s another barrier. 

April: Yeah, and that’s huge. And I  – and it’s funny, when the, the person who asked about, um, you know, ethnic studies folks being able to get those teaching certificates, I remember my college. It was a fight to get an ethnic studies department, right? Like, department, not, not an add-on, not like, a, uh, asterisk, “and you can do this,” um, so that was huge.

Uh, another really good question just came in and we’re – we are gonna wrap this up soon, but these are great question. Is there a way to partner with community colleges to offer this for college in the high school credit? Um…

Tracy: Yeah, Seattle partners with, uh, North Seattle College for, um, college in the high school credit, and, um, a math ethnic studies teacher at Garfield High School is also working with the UW on a math ethnic studies college in the high school course.

April: That’s awesome.

Jeff: We partner with Ed – Edmonds College. So, Ed – yeah not community college, no – Edmonds College.

April: No, I was gonna say, “Good for you, Jeff.” I’ve been mucking that up ever since it went to a college.

Jeff: Right? I got that?

April: I feel like at some point they’re going to go, “April, we’re a college!” I’m like, “I know! I know!”

Jeff: So, yeah, we’ve been – two years now we’ve been partnering with them and they’ve been great.

April: Oh, awesome. Well, hopefully there’s some folks I think that, uh, you know, watching us from Everett Community College, so hopefully they’ll, um, think about that as well, because I know college in the high school is a powerful program in, um, and just really a gateway for so many of our students, um, to be able to have that as an offering in high school and get college credit would be absolutely huge. Um, so yeah, that is wonderful. 

Well, as we wrap up, I just want, um, either of you to talk about this exciting assembly that’s coming up this weekend and where folks can find more information. I don’t know; is it too late to register? Um, you know, what – just give me – let’s tell them about the, the work, Tracy. 

Tracy: So, we’ve found that – like I said, there’s not a lot of opportunities out there for people to meet and, and share ideas around ethnic studies, so, that’s one of our goals we have for, um, our ethnic studies assembly, and it started last year when Dr. Curtis Acosta from the Tucson Mexican-American studies program came and, and helped us organize, and it’s – it’s not, um, a conference. It’s not professional development. It is an organizing and network opportunity for anti-racist, ethnic studies educators to learn how to build community in their own, um, districts and support each other’s work and push ethnic studies into resistant spaces. And, so, that’s what we’re doing this coming Saturday [June 27th, 2020], and unfortunately, registration is closed, and we were close to maximum capacity which we’re excited about. Um, a lot of good work has come from our last assembly. That’s where we came up with, you know, our push for anti-racist PD and connecting with Senator Hasegawa and the we eventually turned it into, like, an official non-profit, which has been kind of interesting. Uh, so, yeah, that’s, that’s what’s coming up. But we plan to offer some virtual professional development, some professional learning communities, uh, to connect people across the State who don’t have this in their own district or school, so, yeah. And you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and it’s @WAEthnicStudies for all three.

April: That’s awesome. So, we are definitely going to publish that when we upload this to Facebook, um, and to Youtube and also will publish a link to your site, because I really want to point out that the work you’re doing is nonprofit. So, um, folks out there who really are passionate about this and want to do something, can’t make the assembly please, um, go to their website and make a donation. We’ll put that on, uh, on a link for our Facebook page, but Washington Ethnic Studies Now is the name of the organization. Tracy and Jeff, I cannot thank you enough for talking with us, um, sharing your thoughts, answering the questions that folks have. Um, I will definitely, um – you know, hopefully connect you with, with interested parties because I feel like there’s a lot of energy out there right now saying, “How can we get this done in our space, in our school district.” Um, and your organization – like you said, Tracy, you’ve been out here doing the work, and so, it’s great that everybody’s like finally waking up and saying, “Oh my gosh!” but, but you’ve been out there doing it. So, I cannot thank you enough. Um, Tracy – Jeff, thank you for coming on Kitchen Conversations. Have a fabulous assembly this weekend and, and hopefully this is just the first of many discussions to come.

Tracy: Thank you.

Jeff: Thank you.

April: Great. Thanks everyone. Have a great weekend – or, I guess great rest of your week. Join us next week on Kitchen Conversations. Yes! Cheers! Um, next on Kitchen Conversations, we’re gonna be talking about common sense gun reforms. So, that’s gonna be a powerful episode you don’t want to miss it. Have a great rest of your week. Bye!

An Elder Millennial’s Journey to Ethnic Studies & Visual Arts, Part Two

By Alex Ng

This multipart journal is where I am documenting my thoughts as I embark on the journey of revising all of my classes from decent Visual Arts curriculum with some Ethnic Studies themes and content integrated throughout, to true Ethnic Studies Visual Arts at all levels: curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom culture.

Part Two picks up where Part One ended: the start of my year of teaching at Franklin High School after having student-taught there 2nd semester of the 2015 – 2016 school year. Rather than recollecting the whole year, I am focusing on experiences that directly influenced my journey towards Ethnic Studies.

Fast Times at Franklin High School, Part Two: Identity & Authenticity in Teaching

My classroom signage and me in the 2016 – 2017 school year

My relative “youthfulness” and status as a POC who grew up in the area and graduated from FHS helped lay down a foundation of assumed shared experience and shared values with my students that I’m not sure I ever fully deserved. One day after school I shared these thoughts with a veteran teacher and dear friend who taught in the classroom next door. I confessed to her that while my classes were going well, I didn’t think I was a very good teacher, and I felt students had an inflated positive impression of me based on my youth and connection to the school. She told me it wasn’t about whether I was a good or bad teacher: what mattered is students knew I cared. That sentiment meant a lot to me. Assumed or well-earned, I was relieved to learn that at least students knew that I cared about them.

As a young teacher I had not yet developed a thoroughly examined teaching philosophy to inform my classroom management. However, I did believe in the importance of consistency, de-escalation, and repairing relationships as critical components to classroom management that also recognizes the humanity of students. In the first week of school an argument broke out between two seniors, one Black male and one Black female student during my 3rd period Beginning Drawing and Painting class. In the middle of class, the two kids got into an argument that quickly escalated into threats to beat each other up. Moving quickly, I physically inserted myself (all 5’4” of me) between the two kids and used the best calming voice I could muster to de-escalate the situation. After they had both returned to their seats and settled into shooting daggers at each other with their eyes I called each over to my desk one at a time for some quiet conversation. Each agreed to move on and get along and from that day forward that’s exactly what they did. I enjoyed watching the cooperation and gentle ribbing that became norms in their relationship from then on. I think both students appreciated that I did not escalate the situation with how I intervened or pursue any kind of discipline. As a result of this moment, some depth was added to our relationship, and they would go on to be two of my favorite students.

Still, it is the students I failed to reach who haunt me. My biggest failing was with four 9th grade Black girls I didn’t serve well during my year at FHS. My failure was rooted in my inability to build interpersonal trust with them. Instead, they saw me as yet another fake adult who couldn’t be trusted. In fact, this exact sentiment was expressed to me several times. Their lived experiences as young Black girls in Seattle Public Schools had taught them that they couldn’t trust adults at school, and that trusting adults would lead to them being betrayed. One student told me exactly this: she learned not to trust adults at school because they are all snakes. For her final project in Beginning Drawing and Painting she created a painting of a close-up of her eye with a heap of adults in the iris of her eye all consumed by a great fire. Her painting was a direct reflection of her well-earned distrust of educators. While I appreciate that my class inspired her to express her feelings and reflect her lived experience thru art, I was never able to defy her expectation of educators or earn her trust. In the end she didn’t complete her painting, did fail my class, and left as sure of me as an adult who couldn’t be trusted as she was of all her past teachers.

I can’t claim any successes from our experiment, but I did learn something about myself: right or wrong, I am an educator who is willing to take risks and do things that I think are important.

Another memory that still resonates with me is a funny interaction between myself and one 12th grade Black male student who had lived a very hard life including the loss of both parents, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. This kid was more than three times my size and had experienced more trauma, racism, and hardship in his 18 years of life than I had in my 28. One class period, he was working on a cut paper collage project and expressing a great deal of frustration to me about the exacto knives we were using for this project. While I was trying to demonstrate to him proper knife skills, he accidentally poked my index finger with the tip of the exacto knife causing a touch of bleeding. He was quite shocked and apologized right away but in a very casual voice which suggested to me a lack of genuine concern about the condition of my finger. In return, I joked that he just stabbed me(!) but that I would be alright. This strange incident of a student drawing blood somehow became a bonding experience for the two of us.

This mammoth of a kid and I would go on to have a meaningful, fun, but often contentious relationship. We bonded over both having lost a parent (or in his case, two) after I shared with class one day that my father had recently passed away from a heart attack. Second semester he would complete a painting portraying drug and alcohol abuse which was the only artwork he made that year that he was proud of. I distinctly remember how invested he was in this painting and how frustrated he would get while painting it. He always signaled his frustration the same way: by pounding his fist against his table. When a loud, declarative thud echoed across the room and half the students jumped in their seats, I knew he was having a hard time. At first, I would go over right away to help him. But I quickly learned that he was not in a place of listening or learning when at peak frustration. So, when I tried to help him right away post fist-meeting-table, we would end up arguing. He was convinced that the paint and brush would magically respond to me but not to him. This, in turn, made me frustrated with him!

I after much contemplation, I decided to take a different approach. I mean, we could only get into the same back and forth argument so many times. He wasn’t frustrated at me; he was frustrated at his own perceived shortcomings. His frustration was stopping his learning, but I couldn’t magically make his frustration go away either. What ended up working was this: first, his fist would rain down on the table. Second, I would go over to him and quietly say something like, “I can see that you’re frustrated right now. I’m going to leave you alone until you’re feeling ready to let me help me. When you’re ready, call me over.” Then, after several minutes of quiet stewing and releasing his frustration, he would call me over and I would be able to work with him without us arguing. This became our normal routine, and in time there were fewer fists and more smiles. This painting reflecting his own experiences with drug and alcohol abuse was the only artwork he chose to keep after graduation. I still remember the smile on his face as he tucked the painting under his arm and walked out of the art classroom for the last time at the end of the year.

Politics, race, and racism were particularly strong currents running through the 2016 – 2017 school year. I recall frank conversations with a group of 12th grade Black female students about racism simmering underneath interactions between school administration and Black students. In short order this group of young women in my 6th period class and I developed enough trust between us for them to challenge my racial equity literacy and have heavy conversations about the presidential candidacies of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Similarly, a group of Latinx students in my 6th period class would often talk with me about Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric, the brewing anti-immigration sentiments in the country, and how they felt as young Latinx kids in a society that routinely signaled to them that they didn’t belong. One Latinx senior would go on to write a letter in response to Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric for a Humanities class assignment. He brought a draft with him to class and we spent more time that day talking about his letter than we did his artwork. Through these interactions I was learning how important it was for me to be authentically present with my students. They brought all their identities to class with them every day and, as their teacher, it was important for me to see and accept their identities. I felt compelled to do what I could to help them bear the various burdens that are unfairly thrust upon BIPOCs in America.

Franklin HS has a sizeable Asian student population comprised of a mix of Asian-Americans like me who were born in the U.S. and Asian immigrants who are more culturally grounded in their home countries than America. Some of my Asian students looked at me with wide-eyed wonder. It was as if they couldn’t fathom being taught by a fellow Asian (or Asian-American) who had similar life experiences to their own. A group of Asian students in my 4th period Advanced Drawing and Painting class were particularly interested in hearing about the two years I spent living and teaching in South Korea. At one point I was asked to speak at the Asian Student Association’s after-school Lunar New Year festival. I can still shamefully recall fumbling my way through a mercifully brief and improvised speech on the New Year traditions in different Asian cultures and the variety of delicious food provided that night.

a K-pop inspired painting by a Franklin High School student

Later in the year, a colleague was struggling with a rift in one of her Humanities classes between her Black and Asian students. She shared this with me during lunch one day and I, perhaps foolishly, offered to speak to her class. In a remarkable show of faith that can only exist between colleagues who trust each other, by the end of that lunch we agreed on a plan: she would supervise my class while I would meet with her class to discuss this rift. It turned out that class was 5th period and about to begin in a matter of minutes! So, we did as we said we would. I got my class started by telling the kids what they would be working on while I was next door before heading to my colleague’s class. She explained my presence to her class and then walked over to mine, leaving me to do whatever it was I could to help address this impasse.

The whole class full of students sat before me as I sat at the front of the room. I began by simply offering to listen. Things started with one Black student describing the issue to me. Then more Black students shared their understanding of the situation while I continued to listen. Next, a Pacific Islander student shared his view of the conflict, then a couple of Latinx students, and finally some Asian students began to share their perspective. The rift between my colleague’s Black and Asian students was rooted in Asian students being silent during class discussions on the historical and ongoing oppression of Black Americans. Black students felt that the silence of their Asian peers signaled their disinterest in the topic, and that their silence made understanding each other impossible. In turn, a handful of Asian students expressed that their silence was how they engaged with difficult discussions. They also expressed that silently listening is a common form of engagement prevalent in Asian cultures and that it did not signal disinterest but rather learning and reflection.

Once I felt I had an understanding of the situation I began to offer my own thoughts, framed very much as my own thoughts, not solutions. As an Asian-American I understood well the default behavior of silently listening instead of vocally engaging in difficult discussions. Although I can’t claim to be prone to this behavior myself, it is something I culturally understand. To the Asian students I tried to emphasize that silence does not help create shared understanding or, more obviously, discussion. Although in their minds they might be having all kinds of meaningful reflections and realizations, if those aren’t shared no one else will know or benefit from them. I also emphasized how deeply personal these discussions were to their Black peers and that their silence was actively creating conflict and confusion. It was understandably difficult for Black students to be charitable towards silent conversation partners when the topic was of such personal importance to them.

In the world of education there is so much student-focused talk about authentic engagement, authentic assessment, and authentic voice. But how often do we question the authenticity of our own identity in the classroom?

I also intuited that the silence of Asian students was also partly rooted in the perception that they did not see themselves reflected in the struggles and oppression of Black Americans or America’s racial landscape as a whole. I shared this thought with the class and mentioned the history of Chinese exclusion, race riots in early Chinatowns on the west coast, and the use and erasure of Chinese labor to build the intercontinental railroad to emphasize that Asians and Asian Americans are very much a part of America’s racial history and have their own histories of oppression and resistance. Over the course of the class period many thoughts were shared, and I was eventually able to facilitate Black and Asian students listening and responding to each other. I recall one student reflected that although they had gone to school with each other since elementary school, they had never discussed the racial dynamics amongst their peers like this before. After the period ended my colleague and I debriefed the situation. I can’t claim any successes from our experiment, but I did learn something about myself: right or wrong, I am an educator who is willing to take risks and do things that I think are important.

It is important to address the pervasive anti-Blackness that runs through non-Black communities of color. I could feel inklings of this in the deep divide and distrust between the Black and Asian students in my colleague’s class. The silence of the Asian students was confirming for Black students what their lived experience had taught them: that their non-Black POC peers were not their allies, that anti-Blackness lived in their hearts and minds. As an Asian American and educator of color I continue to confront this truth within myself. Nothing in life has aided me more in dismantling the anti-Blackness that lives within me than teaching Black students. They deserve better than to sit in yet another classroom with yet another teacher who is blind to their own prejudice. As educators, we must acknowledge the reality of Anti-Blackness within us. We must admit it, interrogate it, unlearn it, and commit ourselves to doing and being better.

Looking back on my year at Franklin, I feel I was generally successful at building positive relationships with my students, the overwhelming majority of whom were BIPOC. Much of this success was rooted in authenticity, consistency, and acceptance. Students could come to class every day and trust that I would be who I said I was. If students saw me care for one of their classmates one day, whether it was discussing complex matters of race and racism in America or showing compassion for a student’s personal struggle, they could trust that I would do the same for them another day. They could come to class every day and know that I saw and accepted them and their identities. As I mentioned previously, I was also somewhat of a novelty at Franklin and that did help to build positive relationships with students. I suppose there were not many young Asian, male FHS alumnus teachers with a dyed hair fauxhawk working at Franklin High School at that time.

The importance of bringing my identity into my work as a teacher was quite possibly the single most essential lesson I learned in my year at Franklin. The closer my teacher identity is to my personal identity, the more authentically present I am in the classroom. I have learned to ask myself again and again: is my teaching in line with my values? Are the things I say I care about present and alive in my teaching? In my classroom? In my interactions and relationships with students? In the world of education there is so much student-focused talk about authentic engagement, authentic assessment, and authentic voice. But how often do we question the authenticity of our own identity in the classroom? Identity is one of the core tenets of Ethnic Studies. For me, the work of understanding this tenet began by turning my gaze inward. In my year at Franklin, I was often challenged by my students: challenged to be a teacher worthy of their trust and respect. Some students afforded me the assumption of trustworthiness but most needed evidence: they needed proof that I was who I said I was. With notable exceptions, I feel I earned the trust and respect of nearly all my students by being just that: authentically myself.

An Elder Millennial Educator’s Road To Ethnic Studies and Visual Arts

By Alex Ng

The Journey to Ethnic Studies Visual Arts

This journal is where I am documenting my thoughts as I embark on the journey of revising all of my classes from decent Visual Arts curriculum with some Ethnic Studies themes and content integrated throughout, to true Ethnic Studies Visual Arts at all levels: curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom culture.

How it All Began: Living and Teaching in South Korea

I’ve been teaching Visual Arts at the public high school level for four years now. Prior to these four years, I lived abroad in South Korea for two years, teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in 7 different public middle schools. My middle schools ranged from tiny rural schools of fewer than 100 students to a 500+ all-girls middle school in the heart of the city of Gongju. I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade and typically saw each class once a week. I was a teacher on the go. Each morning I would bus (or taxi if I woke up late!) to a different school in a different town or neighborhood in the city.

I went to South Korea to experience teaching firsthand. I knew I had an interest in teaching, but I had never done it before. I also knew that having an interest in teaching at the age of 24 was not the same as having a life-long passion for teaching. I went to South Korea to teach, learn, and decide if teaching was something I wanted to pursue as a career. My contract was for one year. If at the end of that one year I felt good about moving forward with teaching, I would return to the US to pursue a Master’s in Teaching degree. I ended up taking two years to reach that conclusion. One year was enough for me to realize that I might be good at teaching and had the passion to get better at it, but not much more than that. The second year showed me that I was growing as a teacher and building the stamina to do the job day-in, day-out without burning out due to unending failure. More on this later.

me in South Korea

My two years of living and teaching in South Korea were truly transformative. For the first time in my life I was outside of the United States and seeing the world from beyond the US-centric worldview I grew up with. In fact, America is not the center of the world, very few of our mores are truly unique to US culture, and America is very much not the envy of the world either. This was also the first time I was surrounded by diverse people whose racial backgrounds did not end in ___-American. Growing up in Seattle I was blessed to have friends and close relations from across a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. But most of us were still rooted in the American milieu. As an Asian American I was already acutely aware of having my own two feet planted in (at least!) two different cultures. In addition, a decent liberal arts education at the University of Washington had equipped me with the language and thought of critical theory and critical race theory (not to mention a pretty sweet Interdisciplinary Visual Arts & English Literature education). This education, combined with my own upbringing as an Asian American growing up in South Seattle, gave me the grounding to examine my lived experiences critically, to reflect, and to grow.

Nonetheless, living in South Korea, in the small city of Gongju, immersed in the tight-knit expat community there, for the first time in my life I shared space and dialogue with people born and raised in other countries such as South Africa, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Australia, and of course, South Korea: people with a perspectives on life not grounded in US-centric thinking. I learned a hell of a lot. I could go on and on about my life in South Korea and how my worldview was challenged and transformed, and perhaps one day I will, but this journal is primarily about teaching.

Picking up on my failures: in two years, I taught hundreds of bad lessons, probably fewer than ten good lessons, made so, so, so many mistakes, learned a handful of important lessons for myself, and ultimately decided that this whole teaching thing was definitely something I wanted to pursue further. South Korea is where I made most of my rookie mistakes. I often question how good a teacher I was for my students. Actually, I don’t. I was a bad teacher. I was a bad teacher but not for lack of trying. I tried, and failed, pretty much every day. I do think I succeeded in motivating my students to engage with their English language studies, but that’s about the only positive impact I can claim to have had on my students. On the other hand, I personally learned a great deal. It is entirely fair to say that my students taught me far more than I taught them. I hope this will continue to be the case for the rest of my teaching career.

A Brief Stay at Western Washington University

At the end of two years I returned to the United States, briefly to Seattle, then found myself living in Bellingham, Washington and attending the Master’s in Teaching program at Western Washington University. For the first time in a long, long time I was surrounded by whiteness. Perhaps for the first time ever, I was surrounded by whiteness without the ability to retreat to an established POC space with faces I knew and people I shared a history of lived experience, love, and mutual understanding with. Thankfully, my time at WWU was brief. The most I can say about my experience in the Woodring College of Education’s Master’s in Teaching program is that I was able to tailor the experience to my interests. The professors demonstrated flexibility and trust in giving me autonomy to direct my own teacher education. At the same time, several racist events prompted me to get involved with the campus community beyond what I had ever imagined. Many meetings, discussions, practicums, boring classes and exciting conversations later, I was a graduate of WWU with a Master’s in Teaching degree!

grad school me

Writing this now in the year 2020, I recognize that I am not the same iteration of myself who graduated from WWU in the year 2016. Still, who I was in 2016 was a culmination of the previous 28 years of lived experience. Below are excerpts from my teaching application cover letter written right after I graduated and provides a good summary of my thinking on myself as a teacher at that time:

My name is Alex Ng. I am Chinese-American, born and raised in the south end neighborhoods of Seattle, Washington. My K-12 education took place entirely in highly diverse, high needs public schools and communities. As a student, I learned firsthand what it feels like to struggle, to have unrealized potential, to see other students not make it, and to see some students succeed in spite of all the systems that sometimes work against them. These experiences have shaped who I am as a person and a teacher. I carry them with me each-and-every day as I pour all of myself into my work. I aim to recognize and validate who students are: their lived experiences and identities, while working to help them become better versions of themselves.

As a graduate student in Woodring College of Education, I helped the secondary education department navigate several internal issues around inclusion and culturally responsive teaching. In doing so, I learned how to build relationships with my peers and professors within the college. My work within Woodring led to me serving on the University President’s Taskforce for Equity and Inclusion where I was able to continue this work on a larger, systemic scale. In this capacity, I learned a great deal about the interconnectivity of all the different efforts across the university to address important issues of equity, inclusion, retention, and representation.

I believe students have the potential to transform their communities. I want to help them along the way. Simply put, I want to find an educational community where my voice can make a difference both to the community as a whole and in the lives of individual students who struggle to envision their own success.

In the midst of my final quarter at WWU an old friend and Visual Arts teacher at Franklin High School reached out to me. He was going to take the next year off and wanted to know if I would be able to fill his position for the year. Some quick coordination later, I was a fresh-faced student teacher at Franklin High School teaching Visual Arts with the mutual understanding between myself and my friend that I would be hired as the Visual Arts teacher for the following year while he enjoyed his well-earned sabbatical.

Fast Times at Franklin High School Part One

My semester of student-teaching was wonderful, deeply exhausting, and highly motivating. I was teaching again after enduring a year and a half of almost nothing but grad school academic minutia. Three days into my student teaching placement cooperating teacher handed me his gradebook and told me I would be teaching all his classes for the rest of the year with the exception of his after school muraling class. I was finally where I wanted to be, teaching every day, teaching content I loved to students I loved, at the school I graduated from, and I loved (almost) every minute of it!

Franklin High School student art

It was while student-teaching at Franklin High School that my attempts at teaching content relevant and responsive to the lives of my students began in earnest. My friend and cooperating teacher gave me a wide berth to teach what I wanted, how I wanted. With my newfound freedom, I created and taught a project called “Art That Speaks” where students briefly learned the history of art & protests with a focus on the art of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and the Hong Kong Yellow Umbrella Democracy Movement and the aim of creating their own protest art. I tried to highlight each cause and how strong visual iconography helped to express the message of each protest movement. Once the learning targets and focus skills were communicated, students were tasked with creating their own protest art, a large-ish painting that expressed their message on a topic of socio-political interests to them. Students created paintings about reproductive rights, body consciousness, BLM, environmental justice, teen mental health, gender representation in ballet, and more. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was my first, teeny-tiny, novice teacher, baby-step towards Ethnic Studies…

Stay tuned for future installments from Alex Ng. In the meantime, follow him on Instagram: @mr.alex.artteacher.