The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is at the forefront of racial and cultural equity and inclusion on-Island, but the core group that heads the school justice initiatives suggests that extensive training could greatly benefit the entire community.
Ena Thulin, member of the MVRHS Race, Equity, and Cultural Proficiency Group, said during an MVRHS school committee meeting Monday that she and the rest of the group have been working hard on a vision of diversity and equity that can be incorporated into the school handbook, and implemented in practice and policy. They are currently working on the final draft of the vision statement.
“At MVRHS, we believe that academic and social excellence depends on a diverse body of staff, students, parents, and caregivers affirming and engaging in the perspectives and backgrounds of our community members,” Thulin said of the group’s mission. “With community and student wholeness as foundational priorities, we work to nurture curiosity, build confidence, and develop passions in a safe and inclusive environment. The intent of our work is to actively examine our role in the systemic inequalities that advantage some and disadvantage others.”
Although the high school has done a lot surrounding race and equity in the past, Thulin said, the group also acknowledges the need to continue strengthening their commitment to those practices each day.
About 15 teachers and school staff at MVRHS were trained last year through the Groundwater Approach course offered by the Racial Equity Institute. Thulin said she is hoping that school committee members will join in that training, along with other school staff.
“We really think anyone working in education should be taking this kind of training, giving us a common language to speak around systemic inequalities,” Thulin said. “We would like to see the entire staff and school committee trained in this.”
According to Thulin, the Race and Equity group has also been reviewing curriculum, and looking at ways to potentially revise it for greater inclusivity.
One piece of reference material the group is using when looking at the curriculum and the language in the handbook is the Varied Voices resource guide, which provides more diverse literature, content, and subject matter in all curriculum areas, which anyone can access and pull from when creating their coursework for the year. “We are working on editing the student handbook to include more culturally proficient language. It’s going to take a while to do that,” Thulin said.
The group is also looking to create a more diverse school staff, so they have been analyzing the school’s current hiring practices to see if they can expand outreach to a more diverse teaching staff.
She added that Brook Ditchfield of the MVRHS performing arts department is working to orchestrate the first annual social justice and diversity week, and the entire Race and Equity group has been advocating for an official diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator position.
“We would like to see some of that role be picked up by the administrator of student affairs, but we also see a need for a coordinator for the whole Island,” Thulin said.
Even though the training is expensive, at around $7,000 for 100 people, Thulin said, many people she spoke to who underwent the training described the experience as “life-changing.”
Committee member Amy Houghton suggested bringing the draft version of the vision statement to the School Advisory Council.
“I don’t think there will be any objection to making the change to the handbook, but I think it would be a great way to expand the reach of getting this word out to other folks as well,” Houghton said.
In other business, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea shared news of testing and reopening guidance for fall 2021 that was recently issued by Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeff Riley. “He anticipates we will be full in-person, no safety measures necessary, with the possibility of some masking in the elementary grades. He is going to get that information to us, but the plan is to be fully in,” D’Andrea said. “I don’t anticipate that we would have a testing program.”
D’Andrea noted that a significant number of school staff are already vaccinated, and that number is growing steadily. But he said health guidance for elementary grades will be dictated by whether or not the vaccine is approved for young children.
Currently, the vaccine is not approved for anyone under the age of 12, so D’Andrea said he recommends a “wait and see approach.”
Committee member Roxanne Ackerman asked whether the high school is allowed to require those coming back to in-person learning in the fall to get vaccinated.
D’Andrea said the state is not requiring individuals to be vaccinated at this point, although “it’s certainly something that the school committee could consider as a local policy, although there are lots of challenges around that.”