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SSD hosts first Student Equity Summit

The Sunnyvale School District held its first Student Equity Summit on Sept. 9 at the Sunnyvale Community Center.

Just over 60 students attended, along with some parents, School Outreach Assistant staff members, members of the School Board, and several leaders from the District.

The event was the result of years of a District focus on equity. The District held its first Equity Summit in 2021 and invited families and staff to discuss race, racism, implicit bias, allyship, and a call to action to come up with tangible ways to make our community and schools a more inclusive and equitable place.

The summit evolved from the District’s annual Lyceum which served as a State of the District event, informing families, students, and staff of the direction of the District while seeking feedback from the group on how the District can improve the educational experience of its students.

After three years of hosting the annual Equity Summit, the District realized while students were in attendance, the event itself was more geared toward adults. Hence the Student Equity Summit being created! Not only did we want to elevate our student voices, but we wanted to elevate the voices of our students who have been underrepresented and underserved.

The goal of this event was twofold: first, the Sunnyvale School District wanted to honor feedback from Latino and African American families specifically and to “center” their voices as the District makes decisions about programming and funding.

“The tendency is for schools and Districts to make decisions about helping underrepresented families succeed but do so (intentionally or not) in isolation from the families themselves!” said Paul Slayton, District Student Services Director. “This event was the beginning of trying to disrupt that process and be better.”

Slayton added the District hopes this is the beginning of a year-long, continued interaction with the families that attended.

“We are working against the one-off, technical solution to what is actually an adaptive problem: how does a large organization highlight the voices of underrepresented families in it’s organizational thinking and decision-making?” Slayton said.

Quetzal Educational Consulting–a Queer, Black, and Indigenous women-led consulting firm that supports educational institutions to make cultural and policy changes that reflect an antiracist climate–co-designed this event with the District.

Students checked in at 8:30 and grabbed breakfast together, connecting with friends (old and new!) from all 10 schools in the District.  Spanning grades four through eight, students had an informal time of getting to know each other before the official program began.

Once the day’s activities started at 9:00, students participated in games and activities designed and led by Quetzal.  From art projects to dodgeball, the activities were designed to help students understand how decisions are made in a school district, find their own voice about what they feel their needs are in school, and express that voice in a positive way to help make a change.

“It was a day filled with opportunities to learn, play, and grow together as a community,” said Chief Teaching and Learning Officer Tasha Dean.

“We hope that the students had FUN and felt HEARD,” Slayton said. “This was designed intentionally as a ‘light start’ to a long-term plan, and if students felt they enjoyed themselves and had a chance to talk about what can be difficult about school, we were successful.”

The same group will reunite at Bishop Elementary School in November to reflect on the September event, revisit student feedback, and join together for a meal and some fun.

“Ultimately, this is the next step in trying to normalize working together to identify what input families have in how they would ask the District to support their child’s success,” Slayton said.

In the Spring, the District’s plan is to have a culminating event at which it highlights successes from the year and to plan how to continue to move forward as partners.

We will again ask Quetzal for their expertise in centering voices, and families as well this time, and hope to establish what can be a lasting change practice to how Sunnyvale interacts with and responds to Latino and African-American families in Sunnyvale.

Article by District Student Services Director Paul Slayton and Communications Coordinator Alia Wilson.

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