A+ for Cultural Awareness and Excellence in Equity

The Equity Team at New Hope Elementary School has put in special efforts to celebrate Black History this year among fellow Voyagers–and the elementary community of OCS at large. First and foremost, the team took the time and effort to design a complete curriculum for celebrating Black History Month for the elementary grades this year. It was already nicely packaged, differentiated at every level and “ready-to-go” for staff of each elementary school in OCS to have as a resource at their fingertips to celebrate Black History in their classrooms–all month long! And it didn’t stop with the development of that awesome resource in a shareable format!

It was the Equity Team members who also believed that student-led Black History projects would create opportunities for students to learn about Black History as they explored not only traditionally celebrated public figures (like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), but to shine a light on Black individuals who may not be as widely known. To top it off, students were given a voice to share what Black History Month means to them, today. 

Ariana Chenlo, a teacher for the dual language program at the school, came up with the idea for students to create bulletin boards to be on display in honor of Black History. Equity Team Leads Andrea Perrone (music teacher) and Michelle DiConcilio (speech pathologist) took the idea and really dug in. Together, they talked to Black students in grades 3-5 and asked them how and what they wanted to celebrate about being Black.  The brainstorming began and School Social Worker Sarah Patterson flexed her schedule to spend quality time with students to develop ideas and visually create boards to display the attributes, qualities, accomplishments, and endeavors that students feel are worthy to learn about during this month. Spectacular staff bulletin boards are also found throughout the school. One in particular celebrates contemporary, but most importantly LOCAL Black leaders, musicians, artists, scholars, athletes, poets, doctors, etc.--all with direct ties to Orange County.

The board at the entrance of the school was designed by 3rd and 5th graders and is titled “Young Black Excellence,” and “Black Girl Magic, Black Boy Joy.” The images and words for the “Young Black Excellence” portion (middle) of the board were selected and crafted by the third graders who participated. These interactive pieces (with art and words) are flanked on the left by a Black girl and on the right by a Black boy–both of which were designs by the fifth graders. “Black Girl Magic, Black Boy Joy” speaks to the physical attributes, beauty and boldness the students want celebrated about THEM. Their eyes, their hair, their lips, their beauty, their uniqueness, their magic and their joy, to name a few… 

Ms. Perrone and Ms. DiConcilio aimed for the Black History focus at New Hope this year to NOT be centered on Civil Rights, slavery and other oppressions of Black people. Rather, they countered those painful memories and uncovered people from the past and present who were “left out of the history books the first time.”

“At New Hope, we are injecting as much diversity, positivity and optimism into what we do for ourselves and for our kids,” said Perrone. 

Another way they are accomplishing this is by reviving the tradition of the morning news segments at New Hope Elementary School. Perrone said the “New Hope News,” has a dual purpose–for students AND for staff. The musical notes that cue the start of the show are completely original and were created by Ms. Perrone’s music students. Ms. Chenlo helps with filming. Gathering stories is a team effort. “New Hope News” airs Monday, Wednesday and Friday of every week. A welcome segment leads the broadcast, often featuring words or phrases in a variety of languages–Choctaw, Cherokee, Swahili, Hindi and more. Each news item ties to a monthly theme. Guests are students and characters from the community who embody that theme. Students also look forward to “Mindful Mondays,” “What’s-Going-On Wednesdays,” and those “Community Chronicles” on Fridays.

What is not widely known is that each news segment goes back to feedback received from staff from the Cultural Competency Survey, administered at every school back in November. Specifically, the “New Hope News” gives students and staff “little bites” at a time, which move equity efforts forward. News items stem from the survey results and data points where New Hope has room for growth in its pursuit of viewing and engaging in education through an equity lens.

Ms. DiConcilio said, “We are trying to create a culturally responsible workplace overall. This is a gentle way to inject diversity and awareness without putting pressure on any individual and without anyone feeling overwhelmed, OR ‘beat up.’”

If you visit New Hope Elementary on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you might ask a staff member to allow you to preview that day’s broadcast. Links to each show are shared with teachers in the mornings. Then they determine just the right part of the day to share it with the students. 

Ms. Patterson said, “The Equity Team here comes up with great ideas that are met with energy and follow-through, even despite fatigue and challenges from COVID, such as extra duties and the need to be flexible for the greater good. They don’t just get things done, they get things done intentionally and with great purpose.”

“And we can’t thank Dr. Meredith Maier (New Hope Elementary Principal) enough,” said Perrone. “We are fortunate to have leadership that is 100% behind this work.”