California Teachers Association

January / February 2017

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school climate and ensuring the safety of all students, especially the most vulnerable populations. Students must feel safe at school so th ey can learn , say SRVEA members, who have joined in a communitywide effort of soul-searching and embracing tolerance and inclusiveness. CAUGHT OFF GUARD Racism is nothing new and is certainly not unique to San Ramon, observes Kathy Dillingham, a teacher at Venture School, an inde- pendent study K-12 campus. "But with the election, students felt they had the license to say things that they wouldn't have said before. It's only a few knuckle- heads, but there's a ripple effect." Sadly, it has trickled down to the elementary school level, says Watson, a third-grade teacher at Twin Creeks Elementary, whose children attend school in the district. "At my daughter's school, students as young as first grade were told to 'go back home' to their own country, even though they were born here. Another little girl was called 'slant eyes.' ese are things that students and teachers aren't used to dealing with. e election made children think it was OK to say these kinds of things. Often- times kids don't know what they are saying, but repeat things they hear at home or on TV." Four incidents of racist graffiti occurred at California High School, making national news. A student was caught and sus- pended, and the police were called. But similar crimes were committed by others afterward. Junior Madison Ellis says the school climate changed during the election. Trump supporters were gloating, she says, and many students became angry and upset. When the hate crimes went viral, students who loathed such behavior felt that everyone at their school was unfairly labeled a racist. "We were laughed at all over Twitter and social media plat- forms, and there was not representation of how the majority of students feel," she fumes, adding that most students were angry that the perpetrator was only suspended, not expelled. Christina Monis, also a junior and a Black Student Union (BSU) member, says she is grateful that many educators created a "safe space" after the incidents for students to discuss how they felt. Obaiza, an English and sociology instructor, held such dis- cussions. She says students shared that they were hearing more hateful things in hallways and out in public, which most attributed to the election. More students — of all colors — joined the BSU after the crimes to take a stand against racism, says Obaiza, a club adviser. Attend- ees at meetings increased from 50 to 120 students, and parents also came to show support. "It was great to see such a strong showing of community," Obaiza says. "Another silver lining was that the BSU joined with other communities — the Muslim Student Association, the Femi- nist Club, and the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) — to improve school culture. Because of what happened, students decided to create something together, rather than be separate entities. It's important to give students a voice and space to express themselves, so they can work together to make the changes they want. It allows them to do exceptional things." MAKING CHANGES TOGETHER "Our district realized we have to confront racism and bullying directly in whatever form it arrives," says Leveque, adviser to Charlotte Wood Middle School's GSA. "We have to come together as teachers, students, administrators and parents. We must fos- ter an environment where teachers stand up against racism, homophobia and bullying. We need to make students feel Far left: Charlotte Wood Middle School Gay Straight Alliance president Evelyn Tackett and GSA adviser/teacher Gary Leveque; left: educator Jill Watson next to a sign in her classroom at Twin Creeks Elementary. " We must foster an environment where teachers stand up against racism, homophobia and bullying. We need to make students feel comfortable and supported in this country. We must start in our own backyard." — Gary Leveque, San Ramon Valley Education Association 45 January / February 2017

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