Last week, Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools hosted its first-ever School Equity Boot Camp, a 4-day, in-person workshop series for educators designed to provide them with a framework to impact school safety and culture positively.
“We hope to have made better educators this week,” said HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. “Equity is an issue and a topic that we’ve talked about for quite some time as public [school] educators. We know that nationally, there’s a disproportionate number of a specific demographic of students that tend to get suspended from school and get expelled. We hope that educators get a better perspective on how to address inequities in public education and be able to help the juveniles that they may come in contact with.”
Nationally recognized speakers Cami Anderson, Paul Forbes, and Devon Horton, Ph.D., led forty educators and juvenile detention case managers from Harris County school districts, the University of Houston, My Brother’s Keeper, and Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in intimate discussions addressing inequity, implicit bias, social-emotional learning, mental health, school discipline, restorative justice, and the school-to-prison pipeline.
The seminar, held at the historic Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, is a continuation of efforts in Houston and Harris County in recent years to address implicit biases in school discipline.
“Equity is so complex,” said C.J. Rodgers, HCDE assistant superintendent of education and enrichment, who attended the boot camp. “There are a bunch of different meanings. People interpret it in a bunch of different ways, and it can also be very polarizing. I’ve seen teachers and principals who are struggling. Our kids are bringing all of [the childhood trauma stemming from inequities and hardships in their lives] to school, and they are dropping it at the feet of our educators. And in some cases, we just aren’t equipped and trained to handle that. We owe it to our kids to successfully educate them and prepare them for the world that they are getting ready to enter to be global citizens.”
For Richard Evans, a caseworker at the Harris County Leadership Academy, a secure youth residential facility overseenby the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, a framework to address inequity means having the tools to help troubled youth.
“I’m a restorative justice trainer and practitioner. It’s important that teachers and all of the people who are stakeholders in working with our kids are all on the same page,” says Evans. “For us, everybody needs to know what the moving parts of restorative justice and restorative circles are so that everyone understands what the “assignment” is.
The “assignment,” he says, is rehabilitation.
“By attending this boot camp, we are hoping to get information on how to quell anger, deal with behavior issues, and encourage behavior modification so that kids have an opportunity to talk through what their issues are so they don’t have to continue to feel like everything needs to be handled with fists and guns.”