In July of 2020, students and alumni from Winooski School District (WSD) came together to craft a letter consisting of eight antiracist demands to submit to the school board. After several meetings that August, the board passed six of the demands. That fall, UP for Learning partnered with WSD to form the Antiracism Steering Committee (ARSC), a team of youth and adults that would serve as the holders of the work of the six Action Teams, focused on bringing the Winooski Students for Antiracism’s demands to fruition.
At the close of year three of this work, we wanted to reflect on the progress of the Action Teams, the barriers that arise when people attempt to dismantle long-standing white supremacist systems, as well as the joy and community building that has emerged as more and more youth have joined the Steering Committee and Action Teams. Over the past months, these youth have worked to spread word of the school’s journey towards antiracism to the larger Winooski community and beyond.
During the past two years, the Action Teams have researched and gained a deeper understanding of their focus areas, becoming clearer on the intention of the demands, defining terms, and partnering with other organizations who are doing similar work. For instance, the Ethnic Studies team invited UVM Education Professor Cynthia Reyes to present on the history of Ethnic Studies in Vermont, strengthening the team’s knowledge of the context of the demand. Action Team One, focused on forming a Racial Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the school, held a community showing of Confronting the Truth, a documentary that depicts different TRCs from countries around the world, including South Africa, Peru, East Timor, and Morocco. They have also connected with New York-based restorative justice group Restore Forward, and the newly formed Vermont Truth and Reconciliation Commission to collaborate and share ideas.
In the third year, the teams are poised to take concrete action to achieve the demands. Action Team Six, focused on creating a multilingual mentoring program, has created a mentor handbook, and secured grant funding from MENTOR Vermont to help fund a multilingual mentorship coordinator position. The team ran into some obstacles when the school’s legal team took many months to review the handbook, as well as the fact that the school does not currently have the ability to fund a full-time mentor coordinator position. Currently, the plan is to hire a part-time coordinator to run an after-school program that will become fully integrated into the school in the future. The team tasked with finding experts to host workshops on student civil rights plans to bring in speakers from the Vermont Human Rights Commission during this upcoming school year. Action Team Two, focused on hiring and retaining faculty of color is, among other initiatives, growing their partnership with The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a consulting firm that has been working with the school district on increasing diversity and inclusion in their workforce, with the goal of bringing more youth voices to the hiring process. The team focused on developing a plan to audit the school’s curriculum and policies through an equity lens is also interested in involving more youth in the process, having them look at the data from the city Equity Audit and receive academic credit for their labor. For a more detailed look at the specific work of each of the Action Teams, please visit this website.
On June 14th, members of the Antiracism Steering Committee presented the teams’ accomplishments, recommendations, and budget requests to the Winooski School Board, and submitted this comprehensive report, which summarizes the work of the 2023-2024 school year. The ARSC is awaiting word from the board in the coming days to learn if the proposed budget will be approved.
There is so much to celebrate about the work of these dynamic teams this year, especially the large increase in youth involvement! The enthusiasm among the middle and high school students on the ARSC is palpable, and has fueled some truly wonderful events and community engagement this year. Several youth from the ARSC and Action Teams attended the Superintendent Search Community Event this spring, asking the three candidates thoughtful and informed questions about how they would approach antiracism work in the district. Youth on the team also shared the work of the ARSC at several all-school events, including two presentations at community meetings. Youth facilitators Mea Rea Jan and Auishma Pradhan met with U.S. Representative Becca Balint when she visited Winooski in January, sharing with her the progress of the school’s antiracism work. The ARSC has also been engaging with the community at large, tabling at the first farmers market of the summer season, and at Winooski’s Juneteenth celebration. The youth have provided the community with ways to offer ideas and feedback about antiracism at Winooski School, including this survey. It is clear that many people in the city are excited about the work, as they express their desires to stay informed and involved, as well as make financial donations. Youth have stated how much they have gained from the experience of being on the ARSC, commenting that they have learned “how to work with adults better,” “communication skills,” and “how to build relationships.” They have also loved “forming connections and partnerships” and “creating change to improve our community.”
UP for Learning is thrilled to continue our partnership with Winooski School District as the Steering Committee and Demand Action teams move from the process, information-gathering and design stages to implementation in the upcoming school year. We also look forward to supporting the skill development and relationship-building that are integral to youth and adults undertaking the complicated work of changing and dismantling long-held systems. We can’t wait to see what is next for the Winooski School District!