Part 5 – Activism and Moving Forward
As activist Leslie Mac said, “Being anti-racist is a verb—and it requires consistent action.” This story is the final installment of a five-part series exploring the ways in which Nueva is striving to be anti-racist in the classroom. To read Part 1–Identity, click here. To read Part 2–Literature, click here. To read Part 3–Science and Math, click here. To read Part 4–History, click here.
Dalton Lobo Dias wants his students to be “raggedy.” The sixth-grade dean and physics teacher wants students to be unafraid to engage in conversations about race and social justice issues. He wants to create for them a safe and brave space, where they feel comfortable asking questions and working through these questions with their peers. This work, he believes, helps lay the foundation for students to engage in anti-racism activism.
“I want to remove the taboo and fear around doing anti-racism work,” Dalton explained. “With Black Lives Matter being so front and center right now, we as teachers are doing a disservice to our students if we don’t talk about these issues. And not just talk, but help students to take action.”
This quarter, Dalton is offering an elective course for fifth- and sixth-grade students, “Anti-racism Activism,” to provide a space for students to discuss and learn, sign petitions, create anti-racist art, write emails, and make phone calls for justice.
Students are working individually or in small groups on a variety of projects related to anti-racism. Sixth-grader Dashiell H. is creating a website with resources and guides for students.
“The biggest feature I’m thinking about is a system where visitors can fill out an anonymous form so they can be ‘raggedy’ and get their questions answered,” he said.
Talia F. and Hannah F. realized they could use their skills in art and baking to help raise funds for anti-racism organizations.
“We’ve learned that we can use our strengths to help create something great,” Talia shared.
Nueva’s “Learn by Doing, Learn by Caring” motto feels very apropos to Dalton, who wants students to realize that even young people can make real change in the world.
“Even before they have full adult autonomy, students can use their skills, strengths, and resources to help further a cause,” he added.
Driving home the idea that students can be changemakers is fourth-grade teacher Sarah Merkt, whose students engage each year in a project that brings together social justice, art, poetry, and math.
We consistently come back to our overarching question in fourth-grade humanities: ‘What is justice and how does a Beloved Community uphold it?’"
— Sarah Merkt, fourth-grade teacher
“We introduce social justice and restorative justice to students through art,” Sarah said. “Students look at art created by white men and then by Black and brown people, and write a poem about what they observed.”
Following this introduction, students select a form of systemic oppression—racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and environmental justice—that they are passionate about changing.
“I introduce students to seven amplifiers, people who experienced something tragic in their young age, and what they did to positively make a change in the world,” Sarah said.
Sarah uses the Amplifier education resources, which include free artwork, lesson plans, and teaching tools that help facilitate non-partisan conversations around social justice. These resources help Sarah and the fourth-grade team introduce students to real people doing real work. The class explores different forms of activism that these amplifiers have engaged in and then expand that conversation to the ways students can be activists.
“This is really about recognition and action,” Sarah said. “I want students to recognize when something is unjust, whether that is at Nueva or outside Nueva, and know what they can say and do to make it better.”
One of the ways changemakers find their voices to make the world a better place is through art. Last spring, Danielle McReynolds-Dell and Alexa Hart co-taught an upper school course, “This Is America: Harlem Renaissance,” focused on an exploration of cultural artifacts—activist manifestos, novels, poems, visual art, and others—of the Harlem Renaissance to understand the relationship between politics, history, art, and resistance.
“We wanted students to learn about the Harlem Renaissance and the ways that it has reverberations with Black Lives Matter today,” Alexa said. “One of the things we did as a class was watch Childish Gambino’s video, ‘This Is America,’ and talk about the ways the issues raised in the video are uniquely American, as well as racist and anti-racist.”
Danielle and Alexa provided students autonomy to guide their learning, creating four modules—clusters of texts that shared common thematic connections to the Harlem Renaissance—of which students selected the ones that most interested them. The four modules, which were named after important Harlem Renaissance figures, were:
- “Augusta Savage: Voices not heard,” which asked the question, “Within a political, social, or artist movement, who gets to have a voice and who does not?”
- “Countee Cullen: Artist perspectives,” which asked the question, “How do artist movements reflect and respond to social movements?”
- “Langston Hughes: Last impact,” which asked the question, “In what ways do we see the impact of the Harlem Renaissance today?”
- “Paul Robeson: Church and community influence,” which asked the question, “What are the ways in which we create space for agency and power.”
Through these modules, Danielle and Alexa wanted students to think about the ways that art can be a form of activism.
“We wanted students to see their agency in art, both their own agency and especially the agency of Black artists,” Alexa shared. “There is power in being an artist, and engaging and supporting one’s community through art.”
Danielle added, “Underneath the art of the Harlem Renaissance there was a whole political movement that preceded the Civil Rights Movement. I wanted to create this course because for so long I’ve felt that the power of the Harlem Renaissance has effectively been silenced in formal education. My hope is that we, as a school, move toward incorporating more of these movements and ‘non-classic’ voices into the curriculum.”
Davion Fleming, associate director of admissions and ninth-grade Science of Mind teacher, also sees the value in introducing new curricula to students.
“We talk about being iterative here at Nueva,” he said. “I hope we can continue to have that practice in our community when it comes to anti-racism so that we can model for our students and our communities what this can look like. The broader question for me is, ‘How do we make a kinder and more beautiful world for the next generation?’”
Dean of Student Life Hillary Freeman sees a number of concrete steps Nueva students can take over the coming months in our efforts to become more anti-racist.
She said, “I think we can do more, and there are three things I’d love for us to do. We plan to get involved with the efforts of activist Kenan Moos, in filling hand sanitizer bottles to distribute to homeless youth in Oakland. Second, STUCO social justice rep Fiona T. ’22 has an idea to create a mentorship program between our upper school students and the programs in which we already have partnerships, such as Peninsula Bridge. And third, I would love to reactivate the BSU club in the upper school.”
I hope that our students feel like they can be their whole selves at Nueva, undiminished by oppressive forces, undaunted by the long work of uprooting racism that lays before us, and unapologetically proud of who they are."
— Alegria Barclay, PreK–12 director of social justice and equity
Ingrained in all of the teaching and learning around anti-racism at Nueva—in programs and projects built over the years, as well as new ones introduced this year—is a message of hope: hope for this next generation of young people, hope for the future of Nueva, and hope in creating a more anti-racist community at Nueva and within our broader communities.
It is inspiring to PreK–12 Director of Social Justice and Equity Alegria Barclay to see all that Nueva has done, and yet there is still work to be done as Nueva continues to move toward being more anti-racist.
“I hope that the incredible momentum and urgency of this moment around anti-racism continues and deepens into an intentional, profound, and self-reflective commitment to transform our school culture, pedagogy, and practices so that every child can truly thrive,” she said. “I hope that we learn to center the voices and experiences of our most marginalized communities and heed their words as we seek to make our school a place where all feel a sense of belonging. And I hope that our students feel like they can be their whole selves at Nueva, undiminished by oppressive forces, undaunted by the long work of uprooting racism that lays before us, and unapologetically proud of who they are.”