Dear Winterhaven Community -
Marisha Childs, our PTSA Cultural Enrichment Chair, recently shared a statement with the community addressing her daughters’ experiences as minority students at our school. Subsequently, other parents have alerted the board to further incidents of racism and homophobia at the school.
The Winterhaven PTSA board is writing today to reaffirm the PTSA Statement of Values we shared in November: that all children, families, teachers and community members are and forever will be welcome in our community.
However, our community has more work to do in order to become a truly inclusive haven for all of our students. We cannot and will not be an unsafe place for any student.
The board has put together a short list of suggested actions we believe can improve communication regarding diversity within our community. We hope you will take the time to share these with your families:
While each of us wants to be part of an affirming and supportive community, and most believe that we are already in one, the above incidents have all been reported by students at Winterhaven within the past two years. It’s clear that we can do better.
We ask that each of us speak up and speak out to confront discrimination.
We ask that you work with us to collectively create and participate in available educational opportunities regarding race, class, gender, gender identity, ability, and sexual orientation. We will work to identify these opportunities and bring them to the community’s attention. See Cultural Diversity at Winterhaven below.
We ask that each member of this community—staff, teachers, parents and volunteers— acknowledge the realities faced by our children in this school and commit to digging deeper, to provide a more just and more affirming community for each of them.
We know that all of our children—and their families—are worth it!
Signed, The Winterhaven PTSA Board:
Cultural Diversity at Winterhaven:
8th grader Alana Nayak has taken on an initiative to combat these recent racist and homophobic incidents at Winterhaven. Alana is working with the Cleveland Equity Team and Mr. Sandilands to bring equity training into the school, and she and her mother, Alice, will be speaking at our next PTSA Community Meeting Monday, March 20th, 6:30-8:30pm.
Marisha Childs, PTSA Cultural Enrichment Chair, has done some tremendous work for Winterhaven in the past two years, including bringing the screening of the film, Black Girl in Suburbia, and the mobile exhibit, Black History 101, to the school, as well as fostering cultural diversity programming in the classrooms. Our school has grown with her in this role, but it’s clear we have, and may always have, work to do to increase our diversity awareness as a white-majority school.
Some suggested reading as follow-up:
Dear Winterhaven families:
As a parent of color with two students at Winterhaven I want to share my experiences, as well as the experiences of my children. I want to share my experience because I hear some parents singing the praises of Winterhaven; because the academics are strong, and student performance overall is great. This assessment may be true, but there is more to the educational experience than strong academics. My experiences, as well as my kids’ experiences, sometimes make it difficult for me to share those same glowing, sparkly feelings about Winterhaven. When I am asked how I like Winterhaven, I tend to be trepidatious in my response. I share my experiences with you.
Recently, my student exited the school and as we began speaking about her day, she became very upset and began to cry. My child told me a couple of her classmates decided to touch her hair and would not stop when asked. Having myself attended a school in Troutdale where I was the sole student of color, I understand the feelings she expressed and instantly wanted to help resolve the situation. I wish I could say that this was the first time this has occurred while at Winterhaven, unfortunately, it is not, but I would like it to be the last. I drafted the following message (which has been edited for privacy and release) and sent it to the parents of the students.
I wanted to reach out to you both to let you know what my kiddo has been reporting to me is happening at school with your child. My kiddo has been dealing with feeling out of place at Winterhaven as she is surrounded by a sea of white people. And the kids that she is surrounded by fail to understand racism or how their conduct toward her may in fact be offensive and hurtful.
I had a conversation with a friend who was telling me about a conversation she heard on NPR with Jodi Piccoult (http://time.com/4544356/jodi-picoult-confronts-racism/). In the conversation the author spoke about racism, her part in it, ultimately confronting her own actions. The author reported a conversation she had with a woman of color where the woman of color asked “how often do you talk about racism with your kids at the dinner table?” For Piccoult, the answer was an overestimate, “occasionally.” Conversely, when Piccoult asked the woman of color that same question, she responded, “every night.”
I echo that sentiment. My family talks about race and inequities all the time. We talk about it in the macro and micro-scale. We talk about police brutality, we talk about the criminal justice system, we talk about federal policies. But, we also talk about the day-to-day incidences. The comments about names, the remarks suggesting all people of color know each other, as well as the attempts to touch our hair. These conversations prepare my children how to move through this world as strong smart confident women of color.
I share this with you because when your child decides to touch my child’s hair, that action is offensive, and offensive for a multitude of reasons (http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/dont-touch-black-womens-hair/). Just like all schools say keep your hands to yourself, that includes keep your hands off my person and my hair. Additionally, my child is not a pet. You and your child are never permitted to pet my child’s hair or the hair of any other child who is unlike yourself. It is these micro-aggressions that slowly chip away at the soul. It is these micro-aggressions that impair the ability to move through this world with confidence. School is supposed to be a safe and welcoming place and when you can't honor your classmates it is no longer safe or welcoming.
I would hope you would speak – not only with your child about this behavior, but speak regularly about race, and discuss how others are (mis)treated differently in your family. Speaking with kids about race is not the responsibility of people of color, rather the family.
I immediately received a response from one parent/Parent A, who acknowledged that in their family they do speak about race and being treated differently. Parent A recognized however, that their discussions tended to focus on the macro-racism. Parent A agreed that this is a conversation for the family and would begin expanding the scope of their family conversations to encompass the micro-/day-to-day incidences. I was glad to receive this response from Parent A and promptly thanked her. Parent B however did not respond. And, when I approached Parent B several days later, thinking perhaps the email was not received (caught in SPAM filter, whatever), her response was telling. Parent B said my email made them feel “attacked.”
As I left from my encounter with Parent B, I pondered the wildly different responses. Then I thought: Wow, what a delicate snow-flake, take a moment to step back from your white privilege just a little bit to understand the life of another.
To be an inclusive and welcoming school requires some work that all of us must be willing to engage. If you call yourself an ally, or you say you are not racist, you must ask yourself: what am I doing to make that a true and accurate statement? Do you simply wear a pink hat at the Women’s March and call it good? Or do you reflect on your own behavior and actions and seek to learn and grow from them?
I believe diversity in our schools helps kids grow to be not just academically smart but socially adept at discovering and learning unique experiences of others. I will always have these conversations and discussions about how we can do and be better because I am on the battlefield to make this a welcoming and inclusive place. Where will you stand: on the sidelines as that delicate snow-flake or as an ally on the field?
Parent/PTSA Cultural Enrichment Chair