Charles H. Bullock School has been awarded the inaugural $10,000 Excellence in Equity grant from the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, to cover a social justice-focused program based on the arts.
The grant was awarded to support an initiative at Bullock that has been collaboratively shaped by parents, administrators, teachers and students, Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, executive director of MFEE, said at the Oct. 3 Montclair Board of Education meeting.
In fall 2020, MFEE announced a one-time grant application process for each of the Montclair schools “to provide significant funding to address issues of racial and socioeconomic inequity within each school,” according to an MFEE press release. The organization allocated $150,000 for the Excellence in Equity grants — $10,000 for each elementary and middle school and $50,000 for Montclair High School.
“The Charles H. Bullock proposal really represents what we hoped these grants would do — bring the staff and families together to creatively think about a way to promote equity in their own school community,” Bridget Placek, an MFEE board member and member of the Excellence in Equity grant coaching team, said in the release.
“The equity grants honor that we need change to come from within each school, and we are excited to follow this grant as it goes forward into action.”
Bullock has been using Montclair State University professor Bree Picower’s Six Elements of Social Justice, a framework for elementary students to learn about social justice, “to think about the way in which they’re supporting social action learning in the classrooms,” Rodriquez-Vars said.
“To address equity for all learners, we use culturally responsive practices that seek to consider what the students see, hear, feel, and experience as individuals in their learning environment to affirm who they are and can become as a result of their presence in a classroom space,” Bullock Principal Nami Kuwabara said in the release. “Students are also supported in learning how to recognize injustice in their community and take action.”
The grant will support a 12-week artist-in-residency program for fourth graders and a 10-week after-school enrichment program available for kindergarten through fifth grade students. The programming, set to begin in early 2023, will be provided by Newark-based nonprofit STEAM Urban. STEAM Urban works to design meaningful educational opportunities that center the experiences of Black and brown students, Rodriquez-Vars said.
“STEAM Urban spent a lot of time working with us to create a program that fits CHB and the goals for our students,” Brenda Coe, currently assistant principal at Nishuane School and former supervisor of curriculum and instruction at Bullock, said in the release. “They have a unique skill set that is centered on empowering student voice and action through STEAM activities, are BIPOC-run, and relatively local.”
Coe was part of the team that submitted the proposal, along with other members of the Bullock Anti-Racist Equity Team, school staff and administrators.
Using the arts, STEAM Urban will provide a social justice-focused curriculum for Bullock students that will be “foundational in their educational development,” Fallon Davis, STEAM Urban’s CEO and president, told Montclair Local.
Students will learn through a “real lens” about what’s happening in the community, Davis said. Guest organizations, like the Urban Agriculture Cooperative, and Black and brown regional artists will visit Bullock to discuss their work and why they do it, Davis said.
“It’s really giving students the opportunity to hear about history, explore how they feel they want to show up in the world and come up with resolve and resolution,” Davis said. “We can continue to talk about the problems all we want, but until folks are part of the solution, they won’t really feel engaged.”
The curriculum will include discussions of issues going on in and around Montclair today, such as food injustice, lack of access to clean water, lack of support for urban agriculture and climate injustice.
After learning from community activists and artists, students will get to choose what projects they want to do, Davis said. The projects will be individual or group-based and may be implemented in the community or simply presented in the classroom.
“They will be exposed to all the different facets of what it means to do a social justice project,” Davis said. “They will get to choose after seeing different footage, after hearing from different folks, after being able to touch and feel different artifacts.”
While the funding covers only the programs set to begin in January, Davis said the goal is to hold the programs each year, with funding from the school district or outside sources.
“Programs like this are so vital in schools,” Davis said. “Giving students a voice and choice on how they can show up for their world, their community, ultimately gives people overall more understanding for other types of humans, and it gives students an awareness on how they can show up for their friends and peers, how they can show up for themselves.”
Parents, students and faculty have been surveyed about their thoughts on approaching race and equity at Bullock, Rodriquez-Vars said. The administration has held professional development on the topics, and staff have previously applied for MFEE funding to diversify classroom libraries and create an Elements of Social Justice library.
“We are thrilled and so impressed with the amount of time, effort and thought that has gone into shaping this work,” Rodriquez-Vars said. “It’s really such a wonderful example of how a community can jump deeply into the range of stakeholders to really think through how they might address an issue of race and equity in their own building.”