OUR COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY
At the July 21, 2020 PTA meeting, we got a glimpse of the important work being done behind the scenes at the district level, as well as at Lake Elmo Elementary, to ensure that our Black and brown students and families are not being left behind. As the Lake Elmo Parent Teacher Association, we, too, have a responsibility to align ourselves with this mission and make certain that our students and families of color are represented, supported, and valued. The PTA executive board presented a plan that we believe is a strong first step in accomplishing this. Please take a moment to read about the positive changes we have in store for our PTA.
In June, PTA president Renee Hinkle met with Principal Gorde; Eric Anderson, coordinator of equity and integration at Stillwater Schools; and Lisa Blake, Lake Elmo’s instructional coach, to discuss ways the PTA could effectively address the issues of racism and cultural awareness. Eric stated that the best way to create empathy and understanding for the many cultures and backgrounds in our school isn’t to hold a town hall discussion or invite a speaker to address a crowd. Rather, our organization is able to create lasting, effective change by building authentic relationships.
He calls it “Learning About Through Learning Among.” It’s the idea that we have to put in the hard work of getting to know and create partnerships with the different cultural parent groups that are in our community. Chances are, many of us don’t even realize they exist. The four main groups that he works closely with are:
NAPAC (Native American Parent Advisory Committee): A committee with a core team of 20 parents, elders and community members. NAPAC includes representatives from Dakota, Lakota, Ho Chunk, Ojibwe, Micmac, Mississippi Choctaw and Menominee Nations. The group meets monthly to support the needs of American Indian students and families in our district.
Caminos (PATH – Partnership in Achievement and Transition to Higher Learning): An on-going collaboration with our Hispanic families with a core group membership of 45 families that meet quarterly at the Family Means building in the Cimarron Mobile Home Community. Meetings are open to the community.
Women's Engagement Group: Incorporating the voices of our Muslim families in collaboration with the Eastern Twin Cities Islamic Center (the Mosque in Afton/Islamic Resource Group).
World's Best Workforce: Racial Equity Subgroup composed of students, parents and community members.
Our PTA has begun a multi-step plan that will hopefully transform the way we connect with and serve our Lake Elmo Families. The goal is to make our organization stronger than ever- not just with more members, but with more diverse contributing voices.
- Step 1 – Begins now: We refocus our PTA’s mission. Discuss ways to include the diversity/equity piece in what we do. Renee and our PTA Vice President, Eva Lee, attended the virtual 2020 National PTA Convention in July. They attended presentations about diversity, equity and inclusion in PTA membership and leadership, and will be sharing and applying what they learned to our local chapter.
- Step 2 – Mid-summer/Fall: Start building relationships with different cultural groups. Increase awareness of these groups and become the “glue” that binds them all together.
> Last month, Renee met with Denise Stephens from NAPAC, who explained the work the organization does with Stillwater students and teachers, particularly in middle and high school, teaching Native American culture. She gave helpful advice on how to introduce our community’s cultural groups into our PTA and how they could contribute in leadership roles.
> Renee reached out to Marian Hassan with the Women’s Engagement Group. She hopes to meet with her soon to learn more about their group’s work in the community and how the Lake Elmo PTA could maybe be of service to them, especially as the school year begins again.
> In August 2019, Lake Elmo PTA attended the back-to-school ice cream social in the Cimarron neighborhood to meet families and get the word out about the PTA. We have been working with Paula Sommaruga in the main office to make sure our communication with families is offered in both English and Spanish. Our goal is to have all flyers, letters, and email available in Spanish. We’re not there yet, but we are making progress towards that goal. Finally, there has been some discussion about the possibility of having/hiring a Spanish interpreter for our PTA meetings. That is an option we might explore.
- Step 3 – Early Fall: Stephen, Eric Anderson, Lisa Blake and some classroom teachers will host a presentation during a PTA meeting that will give an overview of Lake Elmo’s Equity and Integration Plan.
- Step 4 – Ongoing: Professional learning for the PTA Board. There are resources and training sessions we can utilize to help us improve our cultural awareness. For example, members of the executive board have expressed interest in participating in the Islam 101/Women in Islam training session offered at the Eastern Twin Cities Islamic Center. Eric Anderson will help connect us to the Islamic Center and Women’s Engagement Group to make that happen sometime soon.
In addition to building bridges with our community’s cultural groups, we must also commit to identifying racist systems and structures in our district, increase awareness in the community, and empower people to respond.
- We can’t identify inequities that affect our students and families if we aren’t aware of the decisions being made at the district level that deeply impact Lake Elmo. We discussed the possibility of having a regular PTA representative attend/watch the school board meetings and report back to the PTA (either giving a brief report at PTA meetings, posting on Facebook, or giving updates on our website). Eva Lee said she would be willing to share this role with someone else. We are looking for one other person to help with this.
- We are discussing the possibility of creating a line item in the annual PTA budget for diversity initiatives (to cover the cost of workshops for the executive board, speakers to present at PTA meetings, etc.).
- Eva gave us a brief description of the HOPE Foundation, a possible workshop we could bring to Lake Elmo which teaches parents how to discuss race issues with children. This would need board approval.
What we have proposed is not a quick fix. We won’t see progress overnight. But we must start somewhere and we must start now. What we do with and for our Black and brown students and families at the elementary level will resonate with them throughout their entire time in the Stillwater district.
In closing, we ask you to join us in this mission. Get to know your neighbors and your children’s classmates, even if you feel like you don’t have very much in common with them. You probably have way more in common than you think. We all want what’s best for our children, but we all need to work together to make sure every child at Lake Elmo can thrive and grow.