In past years, The Next Step Public Charter School has become increasingly aware of how equity plays a part in how they approach their jobs and, as a result, educate their students. One of the many things that makes this school unique is that their students and staff come from many different parts of the world, different cultures, backgrounds and identities. Over 25 countries are represented and over 13 languages are spoken in their school building. The Next Step leadership team believes that whether others realize it or not, this impacts everyone’s work every day. In an effort to address this and open up the conversation regarding what it means to be equitable, inclusive and non-bias, The Next Step PCS has participated in extensive and ongoing training.
The how and what of the impact, as educators, is a topic that has been a priority but The Next Step PCS felt had not been addressed adequately. Brandi Shelton, Director of Student Support and Engagement at The Next Step believes that, “Culture is not just based on race but values, perceptions, belonging and ideals. As a community, The Next Step believes that humans carry beliefs about people based on personal cultural lens. If our role as educators is to not only to foster academic growth, but to also encourage social awareness, we have to first address our own personal assumptions and blind spots.”
This isn't easy work. There are many layers to how differences and beliefs influence how people work with one another and the students they serve. In the fall of 2015, The Next Step formed the Cultural Competency Committee. This consisted of staff members from both the day and evening programs who came together monthly to discuss these issues and to come up with ideas on how to increase equity and inclusion and undue bias at The Next Step. The committee quickly learned that these trainings would be challenging and require a particular level of expertise.
The Next Step decided to work with a consultant by the name of Dr. Kamilah Majied. Dr. Majied is an educator and researcher at Howard University, author, mental health therapist and internationally recognized expert on the impact of oppression on mental health and social functioning. Her professional work focuses on racism, homophobia, heterosexism and other forms of social oppression with the goal of mitigating the effects of these on individual, familial organizational and community well-being.
At the launch of this training, members of the committee met with Dr. Majied and guided The Next Step in unpacking these issues and how to become allies to students -- all students. For several years, this work has been known as "cultural competency" but at its core it is professional development that more accurately focuses on equity, inclusion, and undoing bias.
This work has given teachers and staff the opportunity to grow functionality and connectedness to their role at the school. This training has been ongoing throughout the entire school year, with multiple sessions to give everyone the opportunity to consider their own diverse experiences and how these experiences inform interactions with students
Dr. Majied is very skilled in her ability to guide groups of people in dialogue about these matters in a way that is safe, respectful and authentic. She has been working with The Next Step, on an ongoing basis, in a team-building manner that allows teachers and staff to look at bias, privilege, internalized oppression, etc.
The Next Step PCS has embarked on this learning journey as a school community and while their diversity may at times present challenges, it is also a great source of their strength and beauty! The Next Step PCS’s mission is to provide students who have not been supported in traditional settings the opportunity to continue their education. The Next Step PCS serves students ages 16-24 and is committed to giving students what they need in order for them to achieve success.