SOUTH BRUNSWICK – A gentleman in the back of the auditorium at Crossroads Middle School South raised his hand, leaning slightly forward in his chair.
He said when his son was three years old, he presented him with one white egg and one brown egg. He asked his son which one was good, and which one was bad. He said his son said the white one was the good one.
Then, he cracked open both eggs to show they were the same inside.
However, the man said that even though he himself is black, and his son is black, he was already pre-programmed to think the darker egg was worse.
A majority of the conversations taking place during the Our Hopes and Dreams for Equity meeting in South Brunswick on Nov. 13 focused on perception versus reality, how to create a safe learning environment for children, and how to even the playing field for students across the board.
Superintendent Scott Feder asked for a call to action in response to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.
“The concept of people shooting people they don’t know is becoming commonplace,” he said to a crowd of roughly 150 district staff members, parents and community stakeholders, noting that people who feel connected and feel like they belong do not commit such heinous acts.
Using slido.com, Feder asked the crowd questions they could respond to for all to see on the projector screen. He asked, In one word, what brought you to tonight’s meeting? The most common responses were community, curiosity, concern and hope.
He then asked, What are the hopes and dreams for your student in regards to equity? Those responses included fairness, opportunity, belonging and acceptance.
“In our preschools, [children] don’t care about what anybody looks like …” Feder said, explaining how children have no preconceived ideas about acceptance.
So, a district-wide committee will be established in order to shift the mindsets about how the district approaches everything.
“We can’t sit and wait. We have to uncover a few things … so we can make a change and make a difference,” he said.
In one example, Feder showed a series of illustrated photos of three people trying to watch a baseball game over a wall. The first showed equality: all three people were standing on the same box, despite their differences in height; equality is everyone benefitting from the exact same supports. Then, there were the same three people with boxes in different heights that allowed them all to see the game from the same eye level; equity is when you get the support you need tailored to you. The final photo showed the wall being replaced by an open chainlink fence, which represents justice: removing the system barrier and addressing the cause of inequity.
He then presented data pertaining to demographics and state testing results that show the inadequacies in student achievement.
“We want to open doors whenever we can for all our students,” Feder said.
In order to move forward, Feder said the district goals that were recently adopted include engaging stakeholders about diversity, completing a comprehensive review of all student achievement and participation data, reviewing entrance and exit protocols, etc. The focus is the underserved and underperforming populations, the disenfranchised groups who do not feel like things are working right, the students who feel like they don’t fit in, students who are under pressure from home and society, and those who struggle with their identity.
“Let’s figure out how to break the rules or change the rules to get results,” Feder said. “Access is a giant wall that schools have created. … We have to be better at opening doors.”
One parent asked that the district stop focusing on grades and instead look at the qualities of each child.
Another parent asked that parents be educated, since a lot of positive behaviors learned at school are negated at home if the adult is not tolerant and accepting.
At the end of the meeting, Feder returned to slido.com and asked, In one word, how do you feel leaving tonight’s meeting? The audience responded with hopeful, optimistic and encouraged, as well as frustrated and hopeless.
“I cannot attest to having the answers to fixing what is broken in our society, but we can work to make sure that the children and the families of South Brunswick learn to live respecting each other’s differences and embracing the diversity of our great community. We can band together to ensure that hate does not grow within our borders,” Feder said in his letter to parents. “We can educate the minds of our youth with math and science and, of course, we will continue to do so, but we cannot journey down this path without first and foremost teaching of humanity. It starts in the home and in tandem, we can make the change that our world needs, at least one South Brunswick child at a time.”
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.