As school board meetings turn contentious over diversity, Hamilton County teens embrace it
Supporting and celebrating the strides made while acknowledging there’s more work to do is the focus of an upcoming Hamilton County event centered on equity in education.
The Celebration for Equity in Education is 4-8 p.m. July 31 at Carter Green in Carmel is open to the public. Organizers, including students from across Hamilton County, want to “show support for the work being done in our local school districts to ensure all students, their families, and the faculty and staff have the tools and support they need to learn and thrive.”
It’s also about amplifying the voices of students who are learning in and experiencing the environment in the schools daily as parents, educators and other adults go back and forth about what topics should and shouldn’t be discussed in schools such as race and gender identity.
Throughout the spring and summer, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work and social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools were in the spotlight as those who oppose it, largely parents and community members, have protested and spoken at school board meetings, calling the efforts divisive and political.
Supporters, including students, have countered, stressing the importance of DEI and SEL to be inclusive and to prepare students for the future.
Some people don’t see there’s an issue when it comes to equity, so it’s about getting them to see the inequities and then take action, said Sowmya Chundi, a rising senior at Carmel High School, and one of the student organizers of the upcoming event.
She said the event is focused on equity on a broad scale, not just racial equity — although it includes racial equity.
Per the event’s mission statement, equity in education means understanding and supporting students of “different ages, abilities, religions, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, nationalities, genders and beyond by providing a safe environment tailored to address any barriers to learning.”
Remi Shirayanagi, a rising Carmel senior, added that she hopes the event helps people to not be confused about equity.
“It’s about bringing people up,” she said, “not down.”
A growing event
Last year, Communities Allied for Racial Equity (CARE), then known as Carmel Against Racial Injustice, organized a walk for equity in education. But this year, they wanted to expand, said Ashten Spilker, a founder of CARE and the organization’s executive director.
So CARE, Noblesville Diversity Coalition, the Fishers-based Racial Equity Community Network and Westfield Parents for Change partnered together for this year’s event. Plus, there’s a student planning board that includes students from all four suburban districts in Hamilton County.
She said last year’s walk was more about asking for equity work in the schools, and this year is about supporting and continuing that work and the school staff leading those efforts. Plus, organizers said they want attendees to come and learn how they can take meaningful action.
“This year, it has expanded, and the work isn’t done,” Spilker said, adding that bringing the groups together helps create a larger sense of community.
And the event itself grew, too. In addition to a walk, there will be booths from various organizations, student groups and nonprofits, as well as vendors, food and speakers, including student speakers from each of the four districts. Each booth or merchant will have a statement on why equity is important, Spiker said.
More change to make
While acknowledging steps have been taken, organizers said the work is far from over.
“While our districts are doing work toward an equitable education system, it isn’t the lived reality for many students day to day,” the mission statement reads. “We hope this event will inspire continued work toward a future where where people of all backgrounds can come together and celebrate the reality that is deserved.”
Several students on the planning board said they hope the event will help the school districts take notice of, listen to and respond to students and their experiences.
Students from multiple districts said they want their schools to prioritize hiring a more diverse teaching staff so they can see teachers who look like them in the classroom and hallways.
Westfield High School rising sophomore David Young and rising senior Sumaiyah Ryan said they’d also like to see their school have more consequences for discriminatory actions and give more support to students who are on the receiving end of those actions.
Students also said they want more accessible mental health resources, for schools to address implicit and explicit bias that create disparities in discipline and who is in advanced classes.
And overall, they want their schools to listen to their experiences and continue to make change.
Students are activists for what they are passionate about, said Madeline Chu, a rising senior at Hamilton Southeastern High School.
“We are the future,” she said.
This content was originally published here.