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MSDWT Staff Development: Interrupting Racism

Creating equitable, anti-racist, and anti-bias spaces is messy, uncomfortable, and heavy. It just is. But it is also necessary.

One of our most valuable points of pride in Washington Township is our diversity, but in the absence of equity work, that diversity cannot thrive. Washington Township Schools has committed to the heavy lift of equity and inclusion, and WTSF is committed to making that lift more manageable.

Equity and inclusion is being woven into the fabric of education in MSDWT with intentional research-based strategies. However, educators and district leaders know that the efficacy of these efforts can be jeopardized when not coupled with anti-racist work. In response, Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera, the MSDWT Director of Equity and Inclusion, proposed a school system-wide training approach to anti-racism by bringing the Interrupting Racism for Children (IRFC) workshop to all staff through phased participation. In January, WTSF committed $35,000 for the initial phase of the project to get started.

Since that commitment, over sixty educators across the district have participated in a virtual, intensive two-day IRFC workshop with plans for many more to participate in the coming months. The results from these initial sessions have been impactful and emotional. Jill Kropa, the Assistant Principal at Nora Elementary School, shared that the information she obtained through the experience has her “reading, digging deeper, and talking to friends, family, and colleagues.”

The workshop collectively and bravely discusses the relationship between poverty and racism, disempowerment, the lasting impact of historical policies and laws, and our personal roles as gatekeepers. It also examines how we begin to intentionally create communities where children’s outcomes are not predicted on race.

“The ability to learn from local leaders, colleagues, and past experiences has interrupted what I thought I knew. This is information that should be given to every educational leader. This is information that should be taught in history class. How have we not known about some of this information? In order to change systems, we need to be knowledgeable about the system. I have work to do! It is a journey, but I have so much hope.”

– Jill Kropa, Nora Elementary Assistant Principal

Jill said the experience left her head spinning, but in a good and impactful way. When asked about her experience, she said the words that come to mind are “insightful, timely, knowledge, powerful, confused.” There is a lot to unpack from the experience, and it won’t happen overnight. After staff members attend IRFC, Dr. Buchanan-Rivera will continue to work with them in debriefing sessions and resiliency teams to offer practical applications of the IRFC session for educational environments.

This kind of transformative experience is what becomes possible when private dollars are invested in public education. Donors are vital to supporting educators in the heavy lift of making real change in not just our classrooms, but in our wider community. If you are interested in knowing more about the additional resources needed to keep this powerful anti-racist work going in MSDWT, please reach out to WTSF Executive Director, Emily Kaiser, [email protected].