Shakopee SEED program plants equity, diversity changes
When Shakopee educators were given the opportunity to pilot a districtwide equity and diversity team, they jumped at the chance.
“We wanted to get a group of educators together, moving them forward with their racial equity knowledge,” said Amy Engler, a high school teacher who has worked with Education Minnesota’s Racial Equity Advocate and F.I.R.E. program. “We wanted to show teacher growth and show growth in classrooms and community.”
The Shakopee Educators for Equity and Diversity, or SEED, formed and put out an application for all staff members to join. Twelve people showed an interest and their group hit the ground running.
“We have gone to different speakers and trainings in Minnesota,” Engler said. “We have started talking about what stands out for us in our circles, classrooms and community.”
SEED members outlined goals and what they saw as their district’s biggest needs, and created an action plan for how to achieve them.
But they also wanted to make sure the group didn’t get ahead of the rest of their colleagues in the district.
“We’re mindful in the idea of pushback,” said Engler. “We reached out to our equity staff and asked how we can be supportive. We met with administrators to make sure they are on the same page. We met with the union leadership. We took our superintendent to lunch to explain what we’re doing. He was understanding and supportive.”
Through their work and talking with others, Engler says other staff are already reaching out and asking how they can get involved.
All of the members of SEED are focused on bringing equity into the district in a meaningful way that positively affects student learning.
“This is my 20th year in Shakopee,” said Holly Hales, a high school teacher. “The district grew in diversity quickly. We didn’t have a chance to plan and adjust for how fast the community grew, which has created a need for us to build understanding.”
Thom Amundsen, an 18-year high school teacher in the district, agreed that a districtwide diversity program is long overdue.
“We have an exceptional base of colleagues and staff that are there for the children,” he said. “We just need to allow ourselves to be open to the answers and try to find the right route.”
Each of the SEED members are working on a project in their school or content area.
Anna Bonderson is working on updating the prayer room at the high school.
“My goal is to have four or five Muslim students design the room,” Bonderson said. “We currently have a system that is inadequate. We are also working on creating a Muslim Student Advisory Group.”
Ashley Walker is going to host a cooking class this year, focusing on healthy recipes from different parts of the world.
“I’m working with the local HyVee to get the ingredients and then someone will come in and teach about the culture and food,” she said. “It’s going to be open to the whole community.”
While these projects are just a small start to changing the culture of the district and its communities, that is how all major changes happen, said Uli Rodriguez, a leader of the SEED group and part of Education Minnesota’s Racial Equity Advocates and F.I.R.E. program.
“The work here is making it work for you all,” he said. “Don’t wait for the consultant or your equity team to do the work for you. This is teacher-led. Everybody has a voice.”
Elementary school teacher Kyla Drammeh agreed with that sentiment and would push educators in other districts to start small, like the SEED program is doing.
“Don’t expect immediate change,” she said. “You want to start an equity team and want everyone to change right away? Tiny baby steps will get you to where you want to be.”
Statewide support for equity, diversity programs available
The Minnesota Educator Academy’s Anti-Racism Program, Facing Inequities and Racism in Education (F.I.R.E.), was created by Education Minnesota to establish a comprehensive, systemic and sustainable framework to support all educators in developing a mindset of racial equity, in an effort to empower educator voice in advocating for racial justice.
Learn more about the program and how to get involved at www.educationminnesota.org/resources/minnesota-educator-academy/MEA-Fire.