As cornerstones of communities, school systems play an influential role in catalyzing a more just and equitable society. To that point, our schools emphasize championing diversity, equity, and inclusion while establishing environments that promote a sense of belonging among students, families, and staff. This is a goal of the Cultural Competency Committee at Promise Academy, which aims to ensure that diverse, culturally progressive practices are not only valued but sustained within classrooms and schools at KIPP DC.
Led by Chelsea Silva, fourth-grade level chair at Promise Academy, the committee is composed of 20 members who meet once a month to discuss social justice issues they are facing within classrooms and school environments. The committee also provides a space for members to continue learning about the communities we support and develop the competence and aptitude to be more responsive to their needs.
“I remember going back to the drawing board after a professional development session I attended on making our literacy content more culturally relevant for students,” said Chelsea on the program’s origin.
“The content and information were great, but I wanted to figure out a way to bring a service to teachers that’s relevant, but also engaging. From there came the idea for the Cultural Competency Committee.”
Most recently, the Cultural Competency Committee explored communicating across racial lines, the difficulty of having conversations about race, and also the vulnerabilities we bring with us that shape our perception. Using text excerpts from White Fragility and Dare to Lead, members were able to share a frank and honest dialogue with the ultimate goal of taking the information learned to positively affect our school environments.
“Often, as educators, we can be unaware of how we’re speaking or the biases we have,” she said. “So, the conversation was about how we can all get on the same level without upspeak or speaking from a place of privilege. Because no matter how many podcasts you listen to or books you read, talking about race is hard, but without those conversations, we’re doing a disservice to teachers.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of the committee is the absence of hierarchy. Principals share reflections with first-year lead teachers who discuss content with grade-level chairs, which then talk with content coaches, which she says helps set the tone that “no one is an expert and that we’re all here together to learn from each other.”
To facilitate change and create more equitable schools requires open dialogue and a commitment to finding solutions together. As a collaborative network, the Cultural Competency Committee at Promise Academy is at the forefront of empowering educators and staff to evolve KIPP DC’s approach to being a culturally responsive network.