By Ung-Sang Lee and Marcus Van
We at Mann UCLA Community School have always held racial justice as part of our core vision. Given the heightened awareness of police violence and the inequitable access to public goods experienced by communities of color over the summer, we recognized an opportunity to amplify our work and voices in the area of school-based anti-racism work. We brought together teachers, administrators, students, families, UCLA researchers, and broader community members to collectively examine how we can serve as a model for the local and national work towards racial justice in schools. To date, more than 30 Mann-UCLA stakeholders have dedicated over 800 hours of collective effort to reimagine how we can sustain our racial justice work. We formalized our efforts and identified ourselves as the Mann-UCLA Anti-Racist Committee (ARC) and met on a weekly basis to advance three related domains of school-wide practices: school governance, collaborative learning, and student and family leadership.
First, we recognized that our racial justice work needed to be sustained beyond a particular moment in time, or the will of individual leaders. To this end, we successfully reformed our school governance structure to ensure that racial justice will be core to the school’s future decision making. Led by our principal, Mr. Orlando Johnson, a proposal was put forward to the highest decision-making body in the school–the School Governance Committee (SGC)–to recognize ARC as a formal governance body with specific bylaws and dedicated functions, and include an ARC representative as a voting member of the SGC. More specifically, ARC members would guide and facilitate the work of the SGC’s smaller initiative groups dedicated to key equity issues, such as building English Learner student and family advocacy, supporting student leadership and activism, and improving socioemotional support for students.
Relatedly, we committed to a process of continuous improvement and learning centered on the SGC initiative groups mentioned above. We view the identification of clear outcome goals, design of interventions that leverage the collective assets of school stakeholders, and continuous refinements to our practices as necessary to our racial justice work. Research-practice partnerships also play significant roles in these learning efforts. UCLA faculty members, staff, and graduate students partner with school stakeholders to ensure that, on the one hand, ARC-facilitated initiatives are driven by research and educational theory, and on the other hand, future research in these important educational domains, especially those related to racial justice, are built by the perspectives of educators, students, and families of color. Too often, theory is privileged at the expense of transformation. We view our own ongoing learning as the link between theory and transformation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we advance our work through democracy. We recognize that racial justice in schools cannot be achieved without the leadership of students and families of color; therefore, we focus our attention to elevating the voices of these critical stakeholders in shaping our collective work. We are learning new ways to accomplish this. In addition to heavily encouraging students and families to participate in ARC and its initiatives, we are building new infrastructures to capture their natural leadership and expertise, including school-wide units on student self-advocacy, English classes for newcomer families, and grant programs for family-led initiatives.
In a recent ARC meeting, critical questions were posed by two of our family partners, Ms. Valentina Rose and Ms. Kathy Guyton: How do we build policy and processes that translate to concrete systemic change? And how can we play a role in shaping the ways schools engage in racial justice? Our collective response to these critical questions are emerging. The community schooling movement, while offering useful frameworks to accomplish many of our goals, has yet to fully articulate the kind of schooling policy and frameworks that center racial justice work. Here, we began to offer explicit models and processes that center racial justice in schools. We also point to the need for intensive investment in efforts such as ours. In our case, educators, students, and families of color are offering their own wealth of knowledge and immense labor to work that serves society as a whole during a time when their own public services, financial stability, and safety are being attacked. As such, we encourage policymakers to invest in the work of school educators, students, and their families in transforming their own schools. The processes and structures we are surfacing through ARC are powerful tools to advance social justice in schools.
Marcus Van is a Mann UCLA Community School teacher and Ung-Sang Lee is a UCLA postdoctoral researcher. Together, they participated in the establishment of Mann UCLA Community School Anti-Racist Committee (ARC), a branch of school governance comprised of educators, students, families, and university researchers.