Editor’s Note: Courtney Coleman of Harlem, N.Y., arrived at Eagle Rock in May of 2015 as a member of ER66 (the 66th trimester since our founding in the early-1990s). This blog post describes Courtney’s exposure to, and experience with, Eagle Rock’s Growing Equity Together Project, where our young author discovered the difference between Equity and Equality and helped to coordinate and facilitate Eagle Rock’s Summer Institute for educators seeking to improve equity at their schools.
By Courtney Coleman
The first seeds of the Growing Equity Together Project were planted in 1994, when Sarah Bertucci, Eagle Rock’s professional development associate, was an intern during Eagle Rock’s first summer in existence.
Eagle Rock is known for its positive influence on people. Sarah was one of the early staff members who were changed forever by getting to know Eagle Rock students and seeing them thrive in our innovative learning environment.
Her summer internship was Sarah’s first experience working in a non-traditional high school. As she adjusted her lessons and provided individualized support to meet students’ needs, she experienced what equity entailed, even though she didn’t yet call it by that name. This was also her first exposure to deeper learning — an approach to learning that focuses on knowing a smaller set of topics in depth while developing lifelong learning skills, rather than covering vast amounts of information at a surface level. Sarah says Eagle Rock internship is what inspired her to become a teacher.
The Growing Equity Together Project was inspired by Sarah’s Deeper Learning and Equity fellowship. Part of the fellowship included a capstone project, so Sarah designed a project with three parts:
- Teaching an Eagle Rock course.
- Running a Summer Institute with students for visiting educators.
- Supporting the educators’ work on deeper learning and equity throughout the upcoming year.
She loved the project because she got to work on things she does well, like building on her work with Professional Development Center (PDC) Student Ambassadors.
Sarah also loved the fact that she was able to have Eagle Rock School students work with educators, and the educators actually listened to and heard their input. She wanted to figure out new ways to work with PDC partner schools, so Sarah pulled together different elements of PDC work, including:
- Having students help with professional development.
- Bringing educators from different schools to Eagle Rock for a week of learning and planning together.
- Asking schools to make a year-long commitment to work on projects.
- Hosting a second Summer Institute in 2017 to reflect on the year’s work.
I attended Sarah’s Deeper Learning and Equity class during my first five weeks of this most recent trimester, and I loved it. I learned the difference between Equity and Equality. Equality is when everyone gets the same thing and is expected to reach the same goal. Equity is when each individual gets what they need to reach that goal.
Ideally, when schools strive for equity, every student actually reaches the goal. I learned the difference between No Excuses schools and Deeper Learning schools. I enjoyed everything we learned in the class, and preparing for the Summer Institute was so amazing. For example, we were able to interview and select the schools that attended the most recent Summer Institute. To pick schools, we just did simple votes based on the information Sarah provided to us about each school.
The visiting schools in the Growing Equity Together cohort are
- City Neighbors High School in Baltimore
- Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx
- Highline Big Picture High School in Seattle
- Winooski Middle/High School from Vermont
- Eagle Rock School is participating as a cohort school
As a student, the challenge of being in control of what was going to happen was a big turn in education for me. And I believe my classmates felt the same.
The Summer Institute was outstanding. We all talked as a class with Sarah and Sarah’s co-teacher, Maya Edery (Eagle Rock’s 2015/2016 Public Allies Teaching Fellow In Society & Cultures), on how we wanted this all to play out. We wanted the Summer Institute to be educational, helpful, and engaging — all at the same time. During the Institute, it was so awesome to sit there and have all these adults listen to what you feel as a student and to actually be heard.
I was in charge of two sessions at the Institute. I planned the first session myself, and it worked out so well. My idea was to set up activities in order for the adults to get to know each other. Then I connected those activities with how to build relationship with students.
Sarah and I led the second session together, and it was about adult relationships with students and equity. We discussed stereotypes and defying those stereotypes, using a term I developed called Positive Threat. Although I’m still developing this concept, one of the instructors told me she couldn’t wait to attend my training on it in five years! It’s still kind of hard for me to believe how well everything went.
The Summer Institute also has follow-ups, so we know the schools are making progress with their students. Each school committed to putting a plan in place for its students. In addition, schools will participate in monthly conference calls with each other and Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center team, receive two visits from Eagle Rock staff and students, and write and publish blog posts twice a year about how things are going (you’ll get to read these posts on the Eagle Rock blog throughout the upcoming year).
The idea is to stay in touch with these schools and see the progress on our work. We’ll know what works, what doesn’t, and what we can do better or do more of the next time. Next summer, the same schools will be revisiting us. If everything goes well, we’ll continue the project for these schools and others in the years to come.
This was an amazing experience for me and I loved it!
– – – – – – – –
About The Author: Courtney Coleman is a student at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado. Originally from Harlem, New York, Ms. Coleman is credited with being the first to identify the ‘Positive Threat’ relationship dynamic — a concept she plans to study, document and write about in the years to come.