In June 2020, Freire Schools made a Commitment to Antiracist Action. We were prompted to action by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the loss of too many other Black lives – and by the significant impact this violence has on our students and their own views of themselves as learners and citizens.
In response, over the past three years, Freire Schools has invested significant time and resources into developing our staff to be antiracist educators. We explored the roots of anti-Black racism in America in our partnership with Rethinc, interrogated where racism exists in our schools, and created a vision for antiracist teaching and learning at Freire Schools. We partnered with Restorative Practices in Action to begin integrating restorative practices in our classrooms in a way that honors student voice. We have embraced generative conflict as a tool for productive struggle, and we have learned to support each other in this critical work in our affinity spaces.
Through all this work, we’ve had breakthroughs, we’ve felt uncomfortable, we’ve integrated much of our learning into our schools, and we’ve struggled when some of the strategies we tried didn’t feel right for our staff and our kids. This is all normal. Antiracism is a process, not a product. And, as we learned in listening to Kazu Haga, “We have the right to be raggedy. We are going to mess up, and it’s ok.”
The racially motivated shooting in Jacksonville, Florida just as this school year was beginning reminds us that there’s still so much work to be done. And we can’t talk about recent events without also acknowledging the painful truth that members of our community still experience discrimination, something that is the very opposite of our mission to create a strong community built on love. As we wrote in our Commitment to Antiracist Action:
We will remember at all times that our school was founded on social justice principles, and that Paulo Freire believed that education was the most powerful act against oppression. Anti-racism work is essential to our students, our mission, and our shared future.
While the work we have done to advance antiracism at Freire Schools and beyond has looked different from year to year, our vision is steadfast – we endeavor every day to create an educational program in which Freire Schools students and staff are unencumbered by institutional racism, meet high standards, and are supported and uplifted every step of the way.
To that end, our antiracist action will focus on furthering three priorities in the 2023-24 school year:
- Cultivating more student voice and choice inside our classrooms.
- Ensuring safe, peaceful, and just learning communities.
- Continuing our personal and professional development as antiracist educators.
Cultivating more student voice and choice inside our classrooms.
Freire Schools has prioritized raising the academic bar for every student, recommitting to rigorous, student-centered teaching and learning as our highest priority and most important act of antiracism. This has not always been easy. The pandemic had a palpable impact on our students’ academic, social, and emotional learning. Choosing to prioritize acceleration over remediation, to hold firm to our college prep standards, and to introduce new curriculum in math and reading was bold, daring, and absolutely what our students deserved. Our Class of 2023 showed us what college prep looks like with 95% of our graduates being accepted to college and earning over $23.8 million in scholarships and aid. Everyone in our community should be proud of the role they played preparing our Dragons for college.
But there is still work to be done to fully realize our college prep mission, to raise student achievement, and to encourage our students to take the big risks necessary for them to build the future. The way we will do that in 2023-24 is by actively developing student voice and choice at Freire Schools. A true college prep education is one in which students are active learners, rather than passive recipients of knowledge. We need to make sure our kids do the majority of the thinking in the classroom. Not only does this prepare students to be the critical thinkers they will need to be for success in college, but also to be the type of active thinkers necessary to identify and dismantle institutional racism. As Paulo Freire wrote:
“It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the world critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of the world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend to simplify to adapt to the world as it is and fragmented video of the reality deposited in them.”
It is much easier to stand in front of the class and deposit knowledge into our students than it is to believe that our kids can and should have voice and choice in their education and, more importantly, to know how to make that happen in the classroom. This is why we are emphasizing Strand 4 of our Deeper Learning Rubric all year from professional development to individualized coaching. Our goal is to develop our teachers to have the confidence and expertise to let students drive their own learning in deep and meaningful ways from here forward.
Ensuring safe, peaceful, and just learning communities.
Since the earliest days of our Commitment to Antiracist Action, we have prioritized evaluating our Nonviolence Policy (NVP) and our discipline practices to prevent violence and ensure that our policy and practices humanize rather than criminalize our students. Restorative disciplinary practices involve developing robust support systems as part of our commitment to peace.
Over the past three years, Freire Schools conducted a study of our NVP during which a group of Freire students, culture leaders, administration, and professional researchers interviewed students, families, staﬀ, Board members, and alumni about how safe Freire Schools campuses feel, how safety compares to previous years, and how our culture compares to other schools. We learned the following: (1) our community does not want us to compromise our commitment to school safety, (2) we need to increase our eﬀorts to prevent violence, including increasing visibility of our available student supports, and (3) we need to better deﬁne violence and communicate this clearly and frequently.
We revised our NVP for 2023-24 to reflect the findings of this study, and we are partnering with a macro social work intern from the University of Pennsylvania to communicate the expectations stated in our NVP as well as our various student supports to our students and families clearly and frequently throughout the school year. Our Freire community stands ﬁrm today in our value to preserve a safe, peaceful environment in which all of us can take risks, learn, and thrive. And, we have included “peace” as a priority with “joy” and “growth” this year as a daily reminder of the importance of peaceful communities to our students’ learning and our vision for antiracist education.
Continuing our personal and professional development as antiracist educators.
We’ve always valued transparency, honest conversation, and authentic connection and are leaning into one of core values – critical thinking – to drive long-term change. As we mentioned above, a sustained commitment to our own development as antiracist educators is central to achieving our vision for diverse, equitable, and inclusive education at Freire Schools. So this year we are going to come together as a network around a common text, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). This nonfiction book was written in the form of a letter to the author’s adolescent son in an attempt to answer, “What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?”
All staff members will receive a copy of this book, and, throughout the year, we will have discussion sessions during professional development days. HBO also produced an adaptation of this book which you can watch on Max. All school and Network Office staff members will participate in these discussions, and we will invite our Board members to join. Discussions will be led by staff facilitators, and we will be asking staff members to apply for these paid facilitator roles. For the most part, the discussion circles will be diverse, but from time to time we may have optional affinity groups to provide our staff members the safety of discussing the complex themes of this book with their peers.
As a college prep network, a deep study of a text is a fitting approach to antiracist education, and if this book study is successful, we may look to include students in a new book study next year. We hope that all of our staff will approach this work as both teachers and learners.
Sometimes the enormity of the work to be done to advance antiracism can be daunting, and it can be hard to locate the role we each play ourselves. Our Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian, and other communities of color bring so much courage to this struggle, often sharing lived experiences of oppression that resonate with many of our students. Our white community might often find it hard to speak up, but their allyship has been and remains critical. It takes courage and risks for each of us to define the roles we will play in advancing equity and antiracism in our schools.
As we enter this new school year with a renewed commitment to antiracist action, let’s show each other and ourselves grace in this work. Let’s give ourselves permission to be raggedy. Let’s commit ourselves to growth, not just this year, but throughout our lives. And let’s remember that antiracism is a process, not a product. Thank you for your partnership in this essential work.
Additional Information on Antiracist Action at Freire Schools
- Antiracist Resources Curated by Freire Schools Staff
- Statement Against Violence Toward Individuals of Asian & Pacific Islander Descent – March 2021
- Vision Statement for Antiracist Work in 2020-21
- Our Commitment to Anti-Racist Action – June 2020
- Statement Against Racist Violence – May 2020
- Our Commitment to Antiracist Action: Year Two Update – September 2021