Elevating Student Voices to Increase Cultural Awareness

September 21, 2019

When students in Mesa County, Colorado identified potential for increasing cultural awareness in their school and community, they acted, creating a vision for a Student Led Equity Council (SLEC). Now that vision is becoming a reality, thanks to leadership from Mesa County Valley School District’s IB Coordinator Laura Meinzen and Dual Language Education Facilitator Michele Rewold.

“The SLEC will create time and space to address district-wide issues of equity, and create pathways to speak to classroom teachers, school district administrators, and members of city leadership teams,” Rewold explained.

Meinzen and Rewold are working in Palisade and Grand Junction to empower students to create the district-wide, student-led council. Meinzen developed strategies to move this work forward during her participation in The Lab at CEI’s Innovation Fellows program. Her work as a CEI fellow resulted in an immediate investment of $1,000 from CEI, as well as a $10,000 grant for 2019-20 that is underwritten by the Gates Family Foundation.

Activating the Vision

The infusion of funding, combined with the guidance of Meinzen and Rewold, will accelerate the SLEC’s vision to empower students to lead activities that explore inequities in their classrooms, and create a platform that inspires action towards increased equity at schools in their district. This includes a program that will award teachers and other school groups with micro-grants for applicants who are working towards enhancing social justice issues in the community.

This fall, student participants in the SLEC are refining and sharing their Cultural Proficiency Continuum (originating from the Center for Applied Linguistics) and reflection tool with teachers and students.

“Although the Cultural Proficiency Continuum is designed for adults, students did an impressive job of diving into the important work of understanding how people relate to others and how to identify where specific behaviors appear within the continuum of cultural awareness and competence,” Rewold said. 

After developing an awareness of the range of responses to cultural issues and discussing examples from their own experiences as minority students in a majority white community, the group will finish adapting the continuum for use with the SLEC, with language more appropriate for younger learners.

The SLEC team will engage at the district level by participating on the Minority Advisory Committee. The committee meets once a month and explores topics related to minorities in education in Mesa County Valley School District.

Students also plan to continue reading and discussing a variety of texts that explore social justice and equity issues related to education. They will be observing their educational communities for inequities, and respond using the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) method. 

Palisade High School Senior Nova Yu is looking forward to the work that lies ahead for the SLEC. “I want to become more knowledgeable about racial discrimination in the classroom in order to be able to properly articulate my thoughts and ideas to other students and educators,” she said.

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