To Our Young Students: What We Mean When We Say #BlackLivesMatter

This is what we want the children in our classroom to know.  In the wake of Ferguson, this is especially what we want our young black students to know. Here is the message we wish to send out–not exclusively, or even primarily, through our words—but through our tone, our gaze, our embrace, and our presence:

We see you.

  • We see you in your uniqueness.
  • We see your gifts and your interests.
  • We see your skin color and your heritage. We will do our best to learn about it from you and with you.
  • We will honor you–in the books we read, in the songs we sing, in the art we see and make together.
  • We celebrate all of the wonderful things that make you–YOU.

We affirm you.

  • You are special to us.
  • It’s so nice to see you this morning.
  • We’re glad you’re here.
  • You did it all by yourself!
  • Look how hard you worked!
  • You can’t yet, but you will soon.
  • We knew you could do it.
  • Use your strong voice!
  • You are really good at that!
  • You are good.

We hear you.

  • Tell us about your family and all the people whose love shapes and guides you. They are important to you and us too.
  • Tell us how you’re feeling. We want you to be happy. It’s okay if you’re not right now. You can talk to us about the things that make you feel sad, lonely, and scared.
  • Tell us your stories—both real and imaginary. They are a gift to us.

We believe in you.

  • You are so capable.
  • You are full of light and promise.
  •  It’s a joy to watch you grow.
  • We can’t wait to see what you’ll discover next.

We ache for you.

  • Some days are just plain hard. Some days there are no good answers.
  • There are realities for which there is no quick fix or simple remedy—in our homes, in our communities, in our world. Change takes time. Far too much time.
  • There are days when all we can do is ache for our world and hold space for you while you do the same.

We carry you with us.

  • We think about you when the sun comes up and when the day is done. We chuckle to ourselves or scratch our heads about things you said or did. We cherish you.
  • While we’re planning lessons or making menus or buying new books, we often come across things we think you’ll like. It’s a privilege to know your preferences, your tastes, and your favorite things.

We will be big for you.

  • There are times when we must be big. We are stronger and more powerful than you. We will use our strength to protect you, to make you feel safe, to lift you up. We will not use our size to intimidate, shame, or diminish you.

We will be small for you.

  • There are times when we will make ourselves small.  As often as we can, we will allow you to make choices, to follow your own way, to struggle, to err, to correct, to discover, and, ultimately, to succeed! We want you to know your own strength.

We will fail you.

  • We will make mistakes. And when we do, we will say “I’m sorry.”
  • We are working to confront our own fears and prejudices, our privilege, and our complicity in broken systems. We are striving to be more aware and careful in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
  • If we are insensitive, hurtful, or dismissive, please forgive us. When we make poor assumptions, we humbly beg your pardon. You deserve more. We will do better next time. We are learning every day—just like you.

We will fight for you.

  • You will see our faces at meetings and rallies. We will wave signs, write letters, and raise our voices. We will hold our elected officials accountable to the promises they make.
  • We will agitate to ensure that you have all the things you need to thrive. You have seen us soft and tender. But there is fire in us too. We will join hands with your parents to guard your future.


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Walking to School in English Avenue

How did you travel to school as a child? By bus? Car? Bike? On foot? Think back for a moment. What did you pass along the way? Skyscrapers? Neighbors’ homes? Cornfields? How were you shaped by the sights and sounds you encountered on your route? While scrolling through my Facebook news feed recently, I came across an article entitled “The Link Between Kids Who Walk or Bike to School and Concentration,” by Sarah Goodyear. In it, she shares the findings of a 2012 Danish study about the positive correlation between exercise–walking to school, in particular–and concentration. Commenting on this study to ScienceNordic, Professor Niels Egelund of Aarhus University says, “It is really interesting that the exercise you get from transporting yourself to school reflects on your ability to concentrate for about four hours into the school day.” These findings are not surprising. Dr. Montessori herself observed the deep connection between movement and concentration decades ago, and freedom of movement is a core principle of her pedagogy. This article does, however, raise interesting questions about the experience of walking to school here in the English Avenue neighborhood.

This past Friday, my teaching assistant and I drove the route from one student’s home to our school. On this o.3 mile drive–the route our student will soon walk twice a day accompanied by her parents–we passed more than 20 vacant and/or dilapidated homes, two corner stores, and a boarded-up building that once sheltered a Head Start program. Had my teaching assistant and I walked down the street–as we often do–we would have stepped over broken glass, trash, and most likely a used syringe or two. Just as notable, perhaps, are the things we would not have passed–a grocery store, a city park, a family restaurant, a library, a coffee shop. There are none here.

I wonder, then, if there is indeed a positive correlation between walking to school and concentration for children who live in English Avenue? What is the impact–emotionally and psychologically–of walking these streets? How does the sight of so much decay and abandonment affect the mind’s ability to focus? How does a child internalize these sights? What does a sea of placarded houses suggest to our young student about the world and her place in it? These are the kinds of questions we wrestle with every day as we live out our mission to educate children, empower families, and enhance community life in Atlanta’s Historic Westside. School starts in one week. We will be working this year not only to grow our vibrant and diverse learning community, but to agitate for positive change in our community. Read this blog. Like our Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter. Make a donation. Join the fight. — Emily

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