Miramonte students dive into race, equity

Lessons aim to provide students with tools for challenging conversations


Mika Strickler

Miramonte sophomores discuss identity during an equity and diversity lesson in Academy. They respond to the prompt: “How do you see your identity?”

Miramonte began in-person district-wide equity and diversity lessons in September,  and that focus on building community and diving deeper into giving students an understanding of race and other identifiers that impact equity. 

These lessons are a continuation of the Cohort Academy presentations during several Mondays last year. Six lessons will be presented during the school year, taught by staff as well as members of Leadership’s Equity and Diversity Commission and students enrolled in the English 4 Deconstructing Race class, taught by Steve Poling and Emelie Gunnison. The lessons teach students important conversation skills to be used in uncomfortable discussions and the goal is to promote a more equitable school environment.

As a student enrolled in the English 4 Deconstructing Race class and a facilitator working with Sports Medicine and Human and Social Development, Miramonte teacher John Grigsby to teach my peers about racial equity, I believe the district-wide lessons will encourage important discussions. 

 I hope these interchanges  will resemble discussions in my English class that are eye-opening and impactful. I have played the role of the teacher and the student when it comes to these lessons, and I understand the reluctance students have toward engaging because the lessons may cover uncomfortable topics. However, the lessons are not only important for helping students understand race and systemic racism by analyzing institutions — such as the prison system, schooling system, or housing market — but they also help improve students’ conversational and thinking skills by educating them on how to speak openly with others. 

“My hope for this year’s district-wide equity lessons is for students to gain a deeper understanding of the damaging impacts of systemic racism that historically and currently plague us. I also would like our school family — staff, students, and parents — to develop skills, knowledge, and tools that allow us to do anti-racist work, both personally and locally in our community,” Poling said. 

The lessons aim to provide students with the necessary tools for embarking on challenging conversations about race and equity, since many are not exposed to such topics when growing up in a more sheltered and less diverse community like Lamorinda.

“Ultimately, I hope that our school can become a more equitable and inclusive place. I was inspired to help teach the lessons because I wanted to share what I have learned in my Deconstructing Race class with the school,”  Miramonte senior Lily Wood said.

The first lesson addressed creating a safe and open space to grapple with difficult conversations by explaining two conversational tools: the compass and the four agreements. The compass is comprised of four quadrants: feeling, believing, thinking, and acting. This compass helps people effectively understand how to enter conversations about race and what direction they need to go in to be centered. In the center of the compass, one can recognize their own perspective and those of others. The four agreements provide guidance for having productive conversations about race. They include staying engaged, experiencing discomfort, speaking one’s truth, and expecting and accepting non-closure.

During the first lesson, students interacted by engaging in discussions with peers and asking questions related to the tools. I noticed that with greater maturity came more productive conversations. For example, many sophomores in the Human and Social Development class appeared disengaged and hesitant to participate in group discussion. However, I heard from peers who taught lessons to upperclassmen that students were actively engaged and more eager to share their opinions.

Despite their shyness, I feel that familiarizing younger students with the topics by teaching the lessons is an effective way to reduce discomfort later on. 

“The equity lessons are important because they address issues regarding race and racism, but I found that people in my fourth period class rarely paid attention during the lesson. It was hard to focus on the content,” sophomore Alison Rhee said.

Other than students’ reluctance to engage due to discomfort, students may not want to participate because they see the lessons as unnecessary. In order to fit in school-wide lessons during the year and not take away from class time, they are taught during Academies, making some students upset over the loss of study time. However, the lessons do not occur regularly and will only conflict with around six academies throughout the year. Many seniors, juniors, and sophomores who experienced the equity lessons taught last year in Monday morning Zoom Cohort Academies also express that this year’s lessons are repetitive, but the in-person nature of the current lessons allows for less distraction and more engaged discussions. Additionally, even if some of the lessons are taught again, students may pick up on concepts that they had not previously understood.

“Race is one identity, and we have many other identities besides race. We have gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, and many more, and they all intersect across privilege and oppression,” the Acalanes district  Director of Student Support, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Lynnā McPhatter-Harris said. “My goal is for all students to understand intersectionality and be able to be aware of which identity is getting in the way of staying engaged in a conversation or causing a rise in a specific emotion.”

Harris helps create the current lessons that are taught during Academies. 

“At the end of the day, teaching is about people, and doing anti-racist work is a way to spread love to and through people,” Poling said.