Equity strategies described in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Schools

District 196 aims to bring more perspectives in curriculum

Achievement and Integration strategies are being assessed in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District through test scores, graduation rates and other data.

For Integration & Educational Equity Coordinator Carita Green, one important measure often doesn’t show up in statistics.

It’s found in the stories of each student.

It’s reflected in the three graduates who emailed her a photo of them meeting together as University of Minnesota students still using the AVID support model for students in the academic middle.

It’s found in another graduate who was ready to drop an AP psychology class in high school but persevered after working with Green and the teacher to overcome her stumbling block. As a college student, she told Green she was excelling in psychology.

It’s seen in the way a student who became blind after a medical issue had the support of a multicultural family advocate, teachers and family to continue to advance in elementary school.

With a population of more than 28,000 students, the district has stories like these developing each day through programs advanced by state AI funds, which totaled $4.3 million this academic year based on various racial and economic demographic data. (See related story from Feb. 17.)

Though AI funding comprises about 1 percent of the district’s total annual budget, it aims to have a big impact on student success.

This followup story will look as some of the specific strategies of AI funding and how they are attempting to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students and the test score disparity between students who receive free and reduced price lunch and those who do not. A future story will look at an analysis of test score data.
In the classroom

While more than 50 percent of AI funding supports transportation and programs at the district’s magnet schools, which has led to a greater racial balance in the schools, other continuing efforts include curriculum development, staffing for 10 multicultural family advocates and a 2017-18 plan to have Equity Partner stipends for staff at each school.

In recent years, district staff have undergone cultural proficiency training, which aims to help teachers encourage student participation by empowering them to share their diverse perspectives.

“Cultural proficiency helps you understand why you are doing those tips,” Green said. “It is learning not from the outside in, but from the inside out.”

Past training efforts have helped teachers learn specific ways to integrate different cultures into the curriculum (i.e. tips), but cultural proficiency helps change a mindset, according to Green.

In recent years, for example, teachers have included a wider range of literary works into an English curriculum, and cultural proficiency helps teachers recognize cultural aspects in the works to bring into the discussion.

Green says when students see themselves in the curriculum they can learn more about their own heritage and that of others.

“When you value diversity, it not only benefits students of color but it benefits everyone,” Green said. “It makes for a more interesting end product.”

Research has shown that a curriculum that includes more cultural perspectives results in students who participate more in class, earn better grades and score higher on standardized tests.

Teachers have to create a safe place in the classroom where participation is encouraged and supported in order for students to find value in their own work and progress, according to Green.

She used the “community” classroom unit of study in elementary schools as an example.

Since the early grades keep the same group of students together throughout the school day, the classroom “community” structure is an important building block for success in academics, according to Green.

Green said teachers show the young students that: “This is our community. This is how we work together. Differences actually help to bring that out.”

She said students should feel “whole and valued” so they can succeed.

“You have to dig in deep,” Green said. “You have to get know each individual in the classroom.”

While teachers were already making these connections with each student, Green said that cultural proficiency helps teachers see the class from each student’s perspective.

The district will be tracking test scores and other data to see what impact the changes will have.

“It is going to take time,” Green said. “It is different from what we have learned in the past.”

Equity Partners

To build off the district’s use of 10 multicultural family advocates, who have worked in the district’s 35 schools in recent years helping diverse students and their parents navigate school operations, any challenges and academic hurdles, Equity Partners will start their work in the 2017-18 school year.

Equity Partners is modeled after a program in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District that allows a current staff member a 0.2 full-time equivalent stipend to serve as an equity resource for staff and teachers.

The staff member will endeavor to ensure there is a consistent application curriculum changes based on the AI strategy.

They also will serve as a resource in addressing topics of concern in classrooms, Green said.

As the district surveyed teachers through the AI program update, many were saying that they were having difficulty addressing uncomfortable situations based on diversity when they surfaced in the classroom, according to Green. That’s when the Equity Partners idea surfaced.

“We want to help them understand how to communicate with students in an appropriate way,” Green said.

Green said the Equity Partners will have a positive influence in the schools since they will be a current staff member who is there throughout the school day, along with already understanding the school’s culture and its staff and students.

Another way in which they are going to help out is encouraging diverse students to get involved in students groups and cocurriculars with an academic focus.

A September 2016 review reported that a Texas A&M study called Project Achieve found “there is a definite effect of (cocurricular) participation on important outcomes like reading and math achievement, course grades, sense of belonging to school and academic self-concept.”

The district aims to capitalize on such outcomes.

The district’s multicultural family advocates communicate with parents of diverse backgrounds on a regular basis. The district, in which there are 100 different languages spoken, will use AI funds to endeavor to improve its communication with Spanish- and Somali-speaking families in two elementary schools.

A pilot project for 2017-18 will make all print and online communications available in Spanish and Somali at Oak Ridge and Echo Park elementary schools.

Oak Ridge School of Leadership, Environmental and Health Sciences is located in Eagan, and Echo Park School of Leadership, Engineering and Technology is in Burnsville.

Communication with parents in the early years is an effort to get them involved in their child’s learning, which the district aims to improve upon in the 2017-18 AI program.

Improved communication in the elementary schools aims to lead to more parent participation in homework, school projects and volunteerism.

Green said there are many strategies teachers have used to improve homework success and parent engagement.

Some teachers have flipped their classroom and allow students to do their “homework” in class and send information home that supplements the learning through reading assignments.

She said an increasing number of retired District 196 teachers are volunteering in schools after classes are done for the day to help students with homework.

In Rosemount Middle School, students can stay after school to get homework help with the reward of having time to play in the gym after their work is done.

Brad Shafer, assistant administrator and athletic director at the school, said the program has been very successful.

AI funding has been consistent in the past three years. District 196’s funding was $4.03 million in 2015-16, $4.3 million in 2016-17, $4.5 million for 2017-18.

Contact Tad Johnson at [email protected] or at twitter.com/editorTJ.