OPS Colleagues and Community,
During unprecedented times of uncertainty, we often allow confusion to lead way to doubt. I would encourage you to keep our district values of equity, results, accountability, leadership, and joy as your North Star. Equity and leadership are the values that I will focus on in this communication as I try to provide you some things to consider as you navigate this crisis.
One of the smartest things that we did as a District was to allow for flexibility in our Strategic Plan of Action Powered by Foresight. Flexibility is needed as we lead with equity in mind. Our plans will change as our response to this crisis broadens and becomes more inclusive. I would encourage you as leaders to keep lines of communication open, be as strategic as you can afford to be, but understand that everyday this situation changes.
Regarding diversity, two different discriminatory and insensitive stigmas have begun to circulate around COVID-19 that we should be aware of and ready to confront if it appears in our schools and community. Ageism is prejudice or discrimination based on assumptions about age. Ageism against older people reduces our well-being, and even our lifespans. As coronavirus has been associated to have a higher mortality rate on people over the age of 60 a stigma has developed around the virus and hurtful social media trends around “boomer remover” have sent out a hateful message to those elderly that are suffering and the loved ones that are suffering with them. When we rely on negative stereotypes about older people, we miss out on the joy, creativity, intelligence, and many other strengths that older people contribute to our workplaces and communities.
Secondly, xenophobia has been a constant, but more recently rising issue in our society. Stigmas around Asian and Asian-American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultural identity have become more pronounced as people connect the Coronavirus with China and Asia. Educators have a responsibility to interrupt any anti-APPI and xenophobic narratives. Since students may be exposed to racist posts on social media or racist comments about the coronavirus, you might hear some of this discourse in your classroom or throughout the school building. It is imperative that you interrupt it every time it occurs.
Below you will find some concrete targets from the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Resilience Quick guide from San Francisco State University to keep in mind as you lead with equity during this crisis.
“There’s so much more we may not know about those we interact with every single day. But what we do know is that we can support one another. We can have empathy for what others are feeling and experiencing. We can think beyond our own perspective in this crisis and work hard to consider and center those who are the most vulnerable and the most in need.”- Tamika L. Butler, Toole Design’s Director of Planning, California
Thank you for all you do,
Director of Equity and Diversity
Promoting and Sustaining Resilience in a Time of Crisis:
Maintaining and enhancing social responsibility in our communities begins with understanding and acknowledging that all crises, no matter what type, have elements of profiling and stigma because these are built into our society.
To support social responsibility during and after crises:
Times of crisis can challenge our teaching and learning communities’ best efforts to maintain responsibility, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Racial, age, ethnic, gender, sexuality, class, national origin, religious profiling and other forms of stigma affect the physical, emotional, and mental health of stigmatized groups and their communities.
Profiled and stigmatized groups may be subjected to:
Our histories of collective traumas and relationships to social power hierarchies create diverse positionalities. Intersections between categories such as race, age, class, gender, sexuality, religion, national or regional origin, ability, health status, and others affect individuals and groups differentially. These effects can be magnified during times of crisis.
To support and recognize diversity:
Maintaining inclusion when normal institutional systems and operations are disrupted during crises requires careful deliberation and intentional action.
To support inclusivity and belonging:
Profiling and stigma damage our community members’ sense of belonging and creates a barrier to resilience. Building and supporting resilience begins with knowing and acknowledging the prevalence of profiling and stigma in our society and how these affect crises of all types.
To support and build resilience:
How an academic institution, faculty, and direct support personnel communicate during and after a crisis can support social responsiblity, equity, diversity and inclusion and promote resilience:
Crestridge 5th Graders from Mr. Craig Wiles’ Class, along with University of Nebraska-Omaha students from the Teachers Scholars Academy, under the guidance of Dr. Gerry Huber, teamed up with Inclusive Communities, under the direction of Mrs. Robby Summers, to complete a K-16 Service Learning Project with the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
This project centered around redlining in Omaha, Nebraska. It was hoped that students would be able to interact with future teachers who looked more like them. Hoping that it would inspire future teachers or social workers. The reverse effect happened. What came out was UNO students had very little diversity or interaction with a diverse population. The Crestridge students were able to have a loud voice and ended up teaching lessons on injustice, inequality, fear, and norms. The perception that the practice of redlining was history, was alive and well. The story of Crestridge going from 23 school buses to now 6 buses and the hard work to get section 8 housing into the Crestridge home school area.
Crestridge students were introduced to story circles at the beginning of the school year. They learned about each other and the difficulties that they faced. To take story circles to the next level, 5th graders learned about systematic racism. They discussed their experiences, thoughts, and their emotions. They were then able to share their stories with future partners at UNO. Breaking the ice.
Students from UNO and Crestridge were grouped together in teams. Each team took an area of focus. The key eight areas were: economics, education, housing/residential, employment, medical, transportation, segregation, and current practices. They developed a focus for their topic and key questions. Each group had two months to research. UNO Service Learning Academy paid for students to be transported to UNO and attend the Black History Museum in Omaha where the Redefine the Redline exhibit was being held. Crestridge students shared ideas to help make the exhibit more kid friendly. Crestridge and UNO Students were able to talk through Zoom in breakout rooms to further their ideas and discuss the research that everyone was completing.
While COVID-19 impacted the students' ability to meet in person, the students were able to hear Dr. Imani present redlining as it pertained to Omaha via Zoom. Students then were able to ask questions of Dr. Imani and work in their groups. As an alternative to meeting in person, UNO Students worked diligently to put together the presentations. Many groups were able to communicate via email with teacher guidance.
Two groups presented for 10-15 minutes per day, then broke into breakout rooms for 15 minutes. Each breakout room was given a series of questions to discuss personal experiences and thoughts. Then everyone came back whole group and discussed their learnings. This took place over 4 days with at least 185 participants.
Not only did we see all the students grow, we saw the invitees to the forum grow and learn. To share and reflect. To share their story. To have a collaborative voice that was united in a cause.
Transitioning to middle school can be difficult for families. At Monroe we have support systems in place to help students adjust to middle school, but we didn’t have a support system for parents. To address the issue parent story circle was announced at Monroe during parent-teacher conferences in 2018. We promoted it to 6th grade parents to help them with transitioning to middle school. Minnesota Humanities Center provided three sessions of parent story circle. Each session was facilitated by Rose McGee at Monroe in the library. Rose McGee is an author, educator and storyteller. Each session allowed a safe space for parents to speak openly about their experiences and connect with other parents in the group. It also created a space for teachers and administration of Monroe to sit and listen with parents and establish an understanding of each other. Six parents, three teachers, three administrators and three para professionals all from Monroe completed all three sessions together.
The result of completing these sessions established strong relationships with teachers, administration, and parents. Parents were able to speak openly about their child’s education, their expectations and share ideas of how they could help at school. Teachers and principals were able to listen and respond that created understanding, trust, and engagement. Parents felt heard and understood what Monroe had to offer for them and their child.
Fast forward to Fall of 2019 and parent story circle II was announced to all parents. Three new parents along with the six parents from last year joined in for year two with Rose McGee. The focus for year two was about reflecting on the first parent story circle and how to move forward. New parents were able to connect with other parents and share their stores and encourage each other. Staff and administration of Monroe listened and reflected with parents. The outcome of all three sessions established ideas of how to get parents involved at Monroe and what that would look like for this school year. Nine parents completed parent story circle II.
Now that these relationships were established with trust and understanding it was time to get parents involved at Monroe. The principal Mr. Moore invited the parents to be part of Monroe’s accreditation review that took place in February. Parents were able to share their input about school with the Cognia Accreditation Engagement Review team. Parents felt important and more connected with Monroe after that experience. To continue their involvement, they were asked to be part of Monroe’s Booster club. This increased membership tremendously, because it was previously led by one parent. All nine parents are now Booster Club members. The club met and were able to discuss volunteering for Family Nights and helping with sports events for this school year. In just two years of starting parent story circle, Monroe has established a support system for parents transitioning to middle school. It has created a level of trust, transparency and connection with parents and staff. Even the children of these parents feel more connected with staff, because they see the positive impact it has had on their parents. Everyone has a voice and creating a space to be heard is the first step to acknowledge it.
I recently completed Minnesota Humanities "Reconstructing Curriculum" course with Dr. Akintunde, Mrs. Chambers and Mrs. Washington. Dr. Akintunde teaches this class much like cooking a lobster. There is no gentle boil; its directly into the scalding topic of race in our world. That's how it should be because we don't have time to slowly and gradually learn about racism. Teachers outlook on the world affects their students outlook. Reconstructing Curriculum changes a teachers outlook on the world we live in. Opens our eyes that the world is full prejudice and racism. We studied how none of us in the class considered ourselves racist, but through our thoughts and view of the world we are inherently racist. Our thinking has become: white is neutral or normal and everything else is an "other". We use this lens in all our subjects and in our day to day life. I learned that we can be as inclusive as we want, but we need to overhaul our curriculum to expect change. I see that I need to go about teaching my history courses in a completely different way. Dr. Akintunde teaches that our world has become so permeated with white men and their stories. These men completely control the narrative of our world. This class has not only changed me as an educator, but as a white man. Educators are given the opportunity to impact generations of children, I want educate my students the wrongs of history and how its taught so they can learn those wrongs still exist today.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport is an independent 501c(3) non-profit organization focused on ending all forms of abuse in sport. We endeavor to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of the nation’s sports culture through abuse prevention, education, and accountability. The Center is a trusted educational resource for all sport entities at all levels of sport from grassroots amateur sports organizations to professional leagues.
This upcoming school year all OPS middle and high school head coaches, as well as our Athletic Directors, will become SafeSport certified. The online course that will be completed will support our staff by understanding how to support our student athletes on and off the field. In addition to the Mandatory reporting training, the Athletics Department will also focus on emotional and physical misconduct (i.e. cyberbullying, hazing) and managing high risk situations like travel competitions.
Efforts like these ensure that we are creating a safe and inclusive environment for our student athletes and going the extra step necessary for Title IX compliance.
Are you planning to launch an online classroom? Awesome. Online learning allows students to engage with multimedia content and interact with their classmates at whatever time is convenient for them. However, the process of getting started with setting up a virtual classroom can feel daunting. What Learning Management System and Apps should you use? How many instructional materials should you assign? How do you make learning fun and engaging? And even after your course is online, how do you create opportunities for interaction between you and your students?
It's easy to Google "How to teach online" as a starting point. But then 3 hours later, you find yourself following a rabbit hole of information and end up on Facebook or Twitter commenting on pictures from the arrival of your friend's new baby.
We are going to cut through the confusion, not only to learn how to plan and launch your online course properly but make sure that it is equitable in facilitation.
In Teaching Online, we will walk you step-by-step through the entire process of launching and facilitating an online course. With straight to the point videos and resources, you'll have your online course up and running in no time so that you can lead an engaging virtual classroom.
Your students are waiting to learn with you.
The Power of Investment in Our Youth
It is always exciting each time we have a young man in the community who makes us proud. Justus Jeanpierre is just one of those young men. His parents, David and Regina, have seen the fruits of rearing him in a loving way and having high expectations of him.
Justus is a senior at North High School and his principal Gene Haynes thinks the world of him. He said, “Justus is an excellent young man. He’s quiet, knowledgeable and sees things a lot better than the average person his age. He’s very inquisitive, likable, and a good student!”
His mentor, Preston Love, Jr. Founder and Director of Black Votes Matter Institute of Community Engagement, UNO Adjunct Professor, among other accomplishments said, “When I first met Justus, he was a quiet young man that did not contribute a lot to discussions.”
But Justus took part in the annual “Face to Face Black History Tour” a tour of Leadership Development for Omaha Future Leaders, also founded by Love. With 40 high school students and tour staff, they visited over 15 Iconic Southern Civil Rights venues, culminating in the heart of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta, Georgia.
Love said, “As the tour evolved Justus became engaged in many ways, his personality shone, and he willingly became involved with others. He entered the essay contest given to the students who went on the tour. After all the essays were judged, Justus was the winner!”
Rose McGee, Program Officer with Minnesota Humanities said, “After hearing about this young scholar, we invited Justus in to read his award-winning essay to different groups of OPS educators, students, families, and community members. During our Minnesota Humanities/OPS Immersions and Community Infused Story Circles, by sharing his newfound knowledge, Justus became the teacher as he delivered thought-provoking learning experiences that were inspirational to all in attendance.”
Justus has now become a speaker in demand, a regular contributor to community events, and an excellent example to other young men!
If we look at the community who is involved with Justus, we see his mom and dad, his school and school principal, his mentor, Minnesota Humanities, and other students who are interested in achieving. It highlights how important it is when community embrace young people, the impact is usually very good.
We continue to expect big things from Justus as he journeys through life, I’m sure we won’t be disappointed! And may our community continue to embrace our young people!
This past February, in an effort to provide our custodial staff an opportunity to examine and break down the stereotypes, myths and barriers among the divides of race, faith, gender, age and other diversities, OPS partnered with Inclusive Communities to host a workshop on "Creating Inclusive Communities". Our custodial staff are one of the most diverse populations we have in our district and it is important to ensure that we keep inclusion in mind as we handle the varied responsibilities of all of our work. The program offered to our custodians covered a range of topics from Identities and Reflection to Unconscious Bias and included an Intentional Inclusion Activity. The ability to discuss these topics openly helped create a bond of teamwork and transparency that will be greatly appreciated and result in better efficiencies within our work place.
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted critical elements of our society, a group of community activists began to communicate with each other about the challenges and needs that were impacting North Omaha and the African-American community. What initially started as an email from OPS Board Member, Kimara Snipe, calling all to action, has now evolved into a strategic collaboration among Black Omaha leadership. The weekly conference calls focus on communication and advocacy. Our OPS superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Logan, has been a calming and stabilizing presence as she is able to utilize this meeting to share updates and get direct feedback from community leaders on issues that impact our students. Efforts that have manifest as a result of these meetings can be found in food distribution, work force support, educational resource sharing, voter registration and mobilization, and inclusion of the artists community to support healing. Though initially established as a network for leadership during COVID-19, this congregation could be a launching point for a number of different community-based efforts long into the future. The weekly meetings are broadcast on several radio stations and as seen here streamed live on the Empowerment Networks Facebook page. If you are interested in finding out more please contact the Office of Equity and Diversity or the Empowerment Network.
The Inclusion Committee spent time over February continuing to supporting the ELA K-5 adoption by developing a list of supplemental text to purchase that support the multiple identities and intersectionality we have in our student demographics and their households. As evidenced by the image below this is an issue that needs to be confronted nationwide. A task force developed the files below as a book list to engage our students and get them excited about seeing characters like themselves in reading.
To better assist the Native American community of Omaha, the Native Indigenous Centered Education program in partnership with various community organizations created the Omaha Native American Community Partnership. The purpose of this partnership is to strategically weave together local community programs and services to better assist the Native American community of Omaha. Using the social determinates of health, the group has created 5 strategic initiatives to best coordinate and assist the Native American Community. Those initiatives create action towards resources and advocacy, assessment, training and education, engagement and sustainability. Recent developments of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the groups focus towards providing immediate resources to the Native American community and is now focusing on Coordinating Communication Targeted to the Native community, Sustaining Community Connections, and Coordinating Training for the Youth. The next meeting for the community partners will occur virtually on May 20th.
Here are some topical resources you may want to consult for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion support:
Covid-19 General Information & Resources
Working from Home
Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19
The COVID Racial Data Tracker-The Atlantic
COVID-19 and Xenophobia
IncluCity is a cutting-edge, time tested human relations and leadership program for a diverse group of up to 60 high school students from up to four high schools and volunteer staff from across Nebraska, South Dakota and western Iowa. In a 4-day residential setting, students take important steps in confronting bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination. In this safe and respectful environment, students examine their own biases and prejudices; discover ways to dismantle stereotypes; build lasting cross-cultural relationships; learn ways to peacefully resolve conflict; and become allies for one another.
For information about volunteering for IncluCity, click here!
Omaha Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, age, genetic information, citizenship status, or economic status in its programs, activities and employment and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups. The following individual has been designated to address inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Superintendent of Schools, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).
Las Escuelas Públicas de Omaha no discriminan basados en la raza, color, origen nacional, religión, sexo, estado civil, orientación sexual, discapacidad , edad, información genética, estado de ciudadanía, o estado económico, en sus programas, actividades y empleo, y provee acceso equitativo a los “Boy Scouts” y a otros grupos juveniles designados. La siguiente persona ha sido designada para atender estas inquietudes referentes a las pólizas de no discriminación: El Superintendente de las Escuelas, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).