Tag Archives: changemaker

Nathan’s Notes

Welcome to Nathan’s Notes, your monthly report from middle school! Each month I’ll share some moments from the classroom, curriculum thoughts from me and/or our amazing teachers, some ideas about education that I’m excited about, and more.

One thing that got me excited this month…

Janis Chun’s 5th-grade science class. The students were using ratio tables in conjunction with Google Maps to discover how eating different foods change the carbon footprint. The students collaborated in pairs as they used math, technology, and science concepts to create a poster that highlighted their findings. I loved how the kids were able to have an application of math to deepen their understanding of a real-world issue about the environment. They were able to work on collaboration skills while using technology in a thoughtful way. Most importantly, the kids were engaged and excited about what they were doing in class!

A curricular question I’m pondering is…

How we can continue to build confident math students? The other day I heard one of our teachers say, “I am not a math person.” Immediately after she said it, she recognized that this statement is something that we have been actively working to vanquish from our language at Prospect Sierra. A growth mindset, especially in math education, is a topic we have discussed regularly by sharing our own personal math stories. Many of the stories that exist within our educational community are of struggle, self-doubt, and external factors that took away our math confidence. We understand that these are the kinds of experiences that lead towards the declaration of believing one is a “math person” or not. For the past few years, the math department has been working hard to unpack not just personal stories of discouragement in someone’s math journey, but also discussing how larger movements of math education in our country have contributed to self-doubt in this subject. How do we continue to foster confident math students? How do our own math journeys as adults impact our children’s experience in math?

One moment that made me think, wow what a special community this is…

When I spoke to the students from the “Be the Change” elective about the climate strike. To be honest, I was worried about this day. How do I support student activism while still upholding the integrity of the middle school? In this case, the activism the kids wanted to take directly impacted school because it required them to miss school. This question rattled in my mind. One day a group of 10 mixed-grade students appeared at my office door. They were from the “Be the Change” elective and were hoping to organize a Prospect Sierra group at the climate march in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say, but as we dove into dialogue it became clear to me that these students truly understood the tough situation that I was in as an administrator. They had empathy for me, and they also made clear that this was an event that they felt very passionate about. The way that these students engaged in discussion showed that they had been given a Prospect Sierra education. They spoke with empathy, respect, organization, and passion. We came to an agreement through thoughtful discussion, and we decided how to move forward. What initially felt like a stressful conundrum ended up being an inspiring moment.

Deepening Our Commitment to Professional Development at PoCC

Every year the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) hosts its annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) for people of color who work in independent schools across the nation. This year’s conference was held in Nashville, Tennessee and was titled Equitable Schools, Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord, and the Notes In Between. 6400 people participated in PoCC and its corresponding conference for students of color, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC).

Historically, Prospect Sierra has sent faculty and staff to PoCC, but over the last several years, we’ve taken this commitment to the next level by ensuring that all faculty and staff of color that would like to attend are supported in doing so. This means that 24 individuals, including board members, represented Prospect Sierra at PoCC this year, our largest group ever!

Why PoCC?

The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.

At Prospect Sierra we commit to sending our faculty and staff to PoCC because we believe that:

  • Equity and excellence are only achievable for us if we have a diverse community of administrators, faculty, staff, and students.
  • Research shows that academic achievement of all children goes up when there are faculty of color in the community.
  • We need to support and retain our teachers of color so that all children in our diverse community will thrive.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is all of our work.  

What happens at PoCC?

Over the course of three full days, our leaders at PoCC attended workshops, participated in affinity group conversations, and presented in four workshops! Prospect Sierra faculty and staff led the following workshop discussions:

  • Experiences of Multiracial Female Leaders in Independent Schools: Renée Thompson, Director of Admissions & Outreach, along with colleagues from other schools, shared their stories to elucidate the voices of a population not often represented in leadership studies.
  • Beyond the Single Story: Elementary teachers Maria Montes Clemens, Zahra Jackson, and Sandi Tanaka, along with Division Head Abby Guinn, discussed the transformation of our school’s winter performance into a interdisciplinary cultural experience that provides students with windows to see out into the world and mirrors to reflect back who they are.
  • Illuminating and Challenging Implicit Bias in the Hiring Process: Director of Diversity & Inclusion Britt Anderson, 5th grade teacher Nathan Tanaka, and Jessica McCann from Brigham Hill Consultancy shared how Prospect Sierra engaged our head search committee in exploring the concept of implicit bias and building in strategies to mitigate the team’s own biases during the head search hiring process.  
  • The Future of Equity and Inclusion in Independent Schools: How Five Heads are Leading Through Challenge and Opportunity featured Head of School Katherine Dinh alongside fellow heads of school to address the most pressing challenges when it comes to a school’s equity and inclusion strategies.

Our team also attended talks by authors, educators, diversity thought leaders, and more, including Marian Wright Edelman, Luz Santana, Julia Lythcott-Haims, and Marc Lamont Hill. Teachers utilized Santana’s question asking methods to start a unit in 2nd grade science and for developing thesis ideas about Animal Farm in 8th grade humanities immediately upon return. Sharing concrete learnings from the time away was a priority and greatly appreciated by the students.

Overall, faculty and staff reported feeling supported and inspired at PoCC, and reiterated the power of connection they felt with fellow faculty and staff of color. One person noted that when we send so many people to an affinity space for people of color, our school community sends a powerful message about our school’s values and our approach to providing support for faculty and staff of color. Further, it elevates the understanding of the importance of affinity spaces for everyone in our community.

We are committed to an ongoing dialogue around difference, privilege, equity, and changemaking that engages all of our constituents, and supporting faculty and staff to attend PoCC is a critical part of this work. From school-supported cohort groups for students and families, to partnerships with local organizations, to partnering with parents about how to talk with children about race, we believe that these conversations help us to be thoughtful citizens and responsible community members.

Changemakers In Our Midst

Around this time every year, I’m reminded of my first holiday season in the United States, when I was barely four years old. As recent refugees, my family had settled in the Washington, D.C. area in the spring of 1975, barely escaping the fall of Saigon and its aftermath. As the holidays approached, the weather grew cold. I recall that I was aware of the spirit of giving that surrounds this season, but that I also didn’t make a wish list or even have an expectations of gifts. There wasn’t money for that.

Then one evening in late December a church volunteer, dressed in red, came over and handed out gifts to everyone in my large family. Mine was a puffy red coat with snowflakes on it and matching red mittens. I was so excited to put it on, a coat much warmer than any I had owned, and felt fully embraced by the kindness of people in the new country that would become my home.

Thus began my journey to find ways to serve others, and especially to provide for every child the sense of safety and care that I had felt as an early immigrant to this country. This is why being at Prospect Sierra has been such an inspiration to me.

At our most recent PSPA coffee, convened by Director of Diversity & Inclusion Britt Anderson and PSPA President Jennie Watson-Lamprey, we heard from people in our community who have been taking action, showing compassion, and living Prospect Sierra’s values. One was Lilah Kendall, whose family has welcomed a Syrian refugee family into their home for a year. Another was Sandra Collins, whose daughter Scarlett taught her how to create safe spaces for transgender children in the Bay Area and beyond. And we heard from Madeleine Rogin, kindergarten teacher, who has been engaging our youngest students in conversations about race and Black Lives Matter as part of their changemaker studies. She joins a large number of Prospect Sierra faculty who actively teach about social justice. In all of the above stories of action and changemaking, and the discussion among parents that followed, we could see the remarkable work of role models in our community being changemakers and embodying Prospect Sierra’s mission.

In December we also heard from our brave third graders who volunteered on their own time to be activists in support of the Standing Rock Reservation. After having learned about Native Americans in their humanities curriculum, one student presented an oral project about her aunt’s involvement in providing much-needed resources to water protesters blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, and camping in harsh conditions. Our students jumped at the chance to make a difference and they put together an impressive lesson that they shared at Tapscott Monday Morning Meeting. Besides building awareness for their peers of this current event, the third graders have begun to see the impact they can make as changemakers, however young or small they are.

If you’re interested in getting involved in some of the changemaker actions that have been mentioned above, I’ve listed the resources provided to us by those individuals who have taken action below.

Finally, if your entire family is compelled to do something, please join us for All Together Now on Sunday, January 29. We will gather at Tapscott at 11:45 a.m. for a potluck lunch and then go out into our community to engage in service until 3 p.m. Stay tuned for more details in January, or contact Britt Anderson at banderson@prospectsierra.org if you’d like to help.

When one person shows support and compassion for another, an entire community is lifted. These are just a few examples of changemakers in our midst who have inspired us to continue to take action and to find ways to further Prospect Sierra’s core values of respect, fairness, compassion, diversity, and service. During this season, consider those who have less and provide support with small and large actions. As Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” The academic program at Prospect Sierra provides students the content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a deep understanding of human emotions to support them as they go forth to gently shake the world and make it better.

Syrian refugees

  • Jewish Family and Community Service-East Bay: “Promotes the wellbeing of individuals and families by providing essential mental health and social services through every stage of life.”
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC): The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.

Building resiliency skills for gender nonconforming and transgender kids

  • Bay Area Rainbow Day Camp is the first day camp for gender nonconforming and transgender kids and is hosted at Prospect Sierra by the nonprofit EnGender, led by Prospect Sierra parent and trustee, Sandra Collins.
  • Gender Spectrum is a great resource for everyone interested in challenging the gender binary and creating gender inclusivity for everyone.

Racial justice

#No DAPL- protecting the water on the Standing Rock reservation

  • Oceti Sakowin Camp: Oceti Sakowin Camp is a unified encampment of water protectors dedicated to protecting our land and water against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Standing Rock: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council is a governing body empowered by the SRST Constitution committed to promoting an environment for the self-sufficiency of all tribal members.
  • Indian Country Media Network