Protecting Our Democracy

Today, runoff races in Georgia reminded us of what is possible when the extraordinary power of organizing and voting is exercised. However, those outcomes were met by the sobering reminder of the fragile state of democracy in our country. We want to acknowledge the pain and distress many of us are feeling today as White Nationalists sought to undermine our country’s democratic system through a violent insurrection. These actions are a result of the racist rhetoric of our current administration and an attempt to deny the voices of millions of Americans, especially Black Americans and other people of color. We at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation believe that public education is a cornerstone in upholding our democracy, and tonight, that democracy was threatened.

We also believe that today’s events are a reminder of the work we must continue to do, including changes to champion racial equity and social justice within our public education system. We condemn the violent actions of the mob that sought to undermine our democratic system and go against our nation’s shared value of allowing the American people to choose their leaders and ensure a peaceful transition of power.

Protecting Our Democracy was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Reflections and Hope

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

2020: a year unlike any other, plagued by a pandemic, death, job loss, evictions, and the continued murders of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. And at the same time, we have seen communities come together, respond with strength and love to demand and move forward through these momentous times.

This year, we’ve been reminded of just how fragile our social structures are — folding at the hands of a virus, disproportionally causing harm and suffering to Black, Brown and Indigenous people across our nation.

Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

With the closure, disruption, and under-resourcing of the country’s schools, more people woke up to what many have known for so long — that schools indeed are hubs for social supports: not only places to learn, but places where young people receive healthcare, nutrition, mental health supports, and allow caregivers to participate in the workforce. Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

At yet, despite the enormous challenges, so many educators have risen to the occasion — organizing and strategizing to creatively deliver content and learning experiences to their students, in spite of personal sacrifices they often have had to make. While we see many young people suffering from isolation, Zoom fatigue, hunger and much more, and we are also seeing accounts of young people who are finding comfort in home learning environments with less rigidity and the comfort to be themselves.

Returning to normal is not good enough, because normal was never enough.

It’s been a challenging year for so many reasons, but we know that returning to normal is not good enough. Because normal was never enough. But, we have hope: and here’s why. Our grantee partners across the region, coupled with so many others, remain hopeful, determined and set on ensuring that we leave this region — and this nation — better than we found it.

In Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city devastated by COVID-19, Gladys Vega and her team at La Collaborativa have worked tirelessly to ensure community members have the supports they need to get by. Young people at Connecticut groups Hearing Youth Voices, Students for Educational Justice, CT Students for a Dream and Citywide Youth Coalition were instrumental in pushing the state to become the first in the nation to require high schools provide courses on Black and Latinx studies. The Equity Institute in Rhode Island took a step further in diversifying the teaching pipeline in the state by launching their inaugural class of “EduLead Fellows” — teacher assistants and support professionals committed to obtaining a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. The Movement for Black Lives has spearheaded protests and action that have led to police reforms across the nation, and prompted corporations to take time to examine the structural racism within their organizations. And so many other partners have led important work around the region and nation to uproot structural racism in our education system and ensure equitable access to excellent, student-centered public education for all young people.

As we move into 2021, we look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with our grantee partners to ensure that all young people, especially young people of color, have access to an equitable and excellent public education. We know it won’t be easy; but because of so many of our partners — we have hope.

Reflections and Hope was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Continuing the fight against COVID-19 and systemic racism

In October, we announced $20 million in funds on top of our planned grantmaking for this year to support work addressing anti-Black racism and COVID relief — especially as both relate to our public education system. Today we are pleased to share that another set of organizations are receiving grants as part of that allocation.

Because of the collective effort required to fight COVID-19 and systemic racism, this year we have intentionally expanded and increased our support for organizations and individuals leading this work through a broad array of investments. The grant recipients we are announcing today represent multiple levels of our educational ecosystem, serving students, families, educators and community members both throughout New England and nationally. This includes community and youth-serving organizations directly supporting young people and families with mental health, mentoring and social and emotional learning; educator-serving organizations prioritizing virtual learning, culturally responsive practice, and wellbeing for adults (especially educators of color); and advocacy, policy and funder partners and intermediaries working closely with communities of color, and also doing antiracist work in white rural and suburban communities.

We are proud to stand behind and with such incredible leaders who are working to achieve a more just education system that lives up to its promise for all young people. We look forward to partnering with these organizations, and further exploring opportunities that continue our commitment to our mission and values: championing efforts that prioritize community goals that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered education for all New England youth.

This year we have seen the pain and hardship inflicted by dual pandemics of systemic racism and COVID-19. But we can also find inspiration and motivation from the communities driving us toward a better future as they address these issues — particularly young people who are mobilizing calls for justice here in New England and beyond.

You can read more about these organizations, and the grants they will receive to support their important work, below.

Community and Youth-Serving Organizations

  • North American Indian Center of Boston: ($100,000): To support their mission to empower the Native American community and improve the quality of life of Indigenous peoples
  • IllumiNative: ($90,000): To support their work to challenge negative narratives and ensure accurate and authentic portrayals of Native communities are present in pop culture and media
  • Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness: ($50,000): To support their mission to assist Native American residents with basic needs and educational expenses; provide opportunities for cultural and spiritual enrichment; advance public knowledge and understanding; and work toward racial equality by addressing inequities across the Commonwealth
  • Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe: ($100,000): To support their mission to preserve, promote, and protect the cultural, spiritual and economic well-being of tribal members, educate youth and promote awareness among the public about their tribal history and rights
  • National Indian Education Association: ($50,000): To support their work to advance culture-based educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians
  • UMass Boston Institute for New England Native American Studies: ($50,000): To support their work in response to the changing priorities of tribal communities as well as their programming and outreach efforts
  • Wabanaki Youth in Science: ($30,000): A program that provides Native youth an opportunity to understand their cultural heritage first-hand and learn ways to manage lands with a broader and more holistic understanding of environmental stewardship
  • Wabanaki Public Health: ($30,000): Wabanaki Public Health is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of Tribal community members through connection, prevention and collaboration
  • National CARES Mentoring Movement: ($150,000): To support local chapters in their work to heal and transform the lives of impoverished Black children by inspiring, recruiting and mobilizing masses of caring Black men and women to mentor and nourish them
  • He Is Me Institute: ($50,000): To support the Institute’s “I AM King” Mentoring program in Boston, which is designed for men of color to facilitate activities that provide opportunities for boys of color to gain the social emotional skills and language needed to manage their own lives and identities
  • Social Impact Center: ($50,000): To support the Center’s work to prevent and reduce the impact of violence by addressing immediate and basic needs such as housing, food, clothing and public safety for the disenfranchised residents of the City of Boston
  • Sisters Unchained: ($50,000): Founded in 2015, Sisters Unchained is a prison abolitionist organization in Boston dedicated to building community and power with young women affected by parental incarceration through radical education, healing, art, sisterhood and activism
  • Worcester Education Collaborative: ($30,000): The Worcester Education Collaborative is an independent advocacy and action organization that works to ensure students in Worcester’s public schools are given the opportunity to succeed at the highest possible level

Advocacy, Policy, Funder Partners, Intermediaries

  • Decolonizing Wealth Project (DWP): ($150,000): To support DWP’s grant funds for addressing issues brought on by COVID-19 and supporting Indigenous communities working for transformative social change
  • Resist Foundation: ($150,000): Resist supports people’s movements for justice and liberation and distributes resources back to communities at the forefront of change, while amplifying their stories of building a better world
  • Grantmakers for Girls of Color: ($100,000): A national funder collaborative that supports Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific American girls in the United States — mobilizing philanthropic resources so Black girls and gender expansive youth of color can achieve equity and justice
  • Lawyers for Civil Rights: ($50,000): Lawyers for Civil Rights fosters equal opportunity and fights discrimination on behalf of people of color and immigrants through legal action, education, and advocacy in the Boston area
  • Drawing Democracy: ($50,000): Drawing Democracy brings together philanthropic partners to support Massachusetts grassroots leaders and organizations promoting a transparent and accountable redistricting process, while empowering communities by creating fair voting districts
  • ACLU Local Chapters: ($50,000): The ACLU works in the courts to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States
  • Community Change Inc.: ($100,000): CCI offers public discussions, events and workshops for antiracist learning and action
  • SURJ Education Fund: ($200,000): SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and work toward racial justice
  • GBH Educational Foundation: ($50,000): To support GBH in building tools, media and research to support educators and families in antiracist, equity-enhanced teaching and learning
  • Daily Kos Education Fund [Prism]: ($50,000): Prism is a BIPOC-led non-profit news outlet that centers the people, places, and issues currently underreported by national media. They are committed to producing journalism that treats Black, Indigenous and people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other invisibilized groups as the experts on their own lived experiences

Educator-Serving Organizations

  • LearnLaunch: ($350,000): To support LearnLaunch’s work in Massachusetts to provide programs and services that are helping educators around Massachusetts build equitable remote learning opportunities
  • Highlander Institute: ($300,000): A non-profit organization based in Providence, RI that partners with communities to imagine and create more equitable, relevant and effective schools. Highlander works with schools and districts on effective change management, culturally responsive instruction, and now responses to COVID-19
  • LiberatEd: ($350,000): LiberatEd offers an antiracist approach to social and emotional learning and healing, which includes student, teacher and family and community engagement resources, as well as an educator training and coaching program
  • UnboundEd: ($350,000): UnboundEd is dedicated to empowering teachers by providing free, high-quality standards-aligned resources for the classroom, the opportunity for immersive training, and the option of support through their website offerings
  • The Teaching Lab: ($350,000): The Teaching Lab’s mission is to fundamentally shift the paradigm of teacher professional learning for educational equity. They envision a world where teachers and students thrive together in communities that enable lifelong learning and meaningful lives.
  • The Community Learning Collaborative: ($150,000): To support the Collaborative’s work in providing academic support during remote learning as well as enrichment and engagement opportunities before and after school, centered on affirming children’s culture and linguistic backgrounds

As we close out our year of grantmaking, and continue to work responsibly position resources in communities and organizations that are doing good work at the intersection of public education, fighting anti-racism and responding to the needs elevated to the pandemic, we’re also excited to support the following organizations:

Strong Women, Strong Girls: ($25,000): Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) is a nonprofit organization championing the next generation of female leaders through our innovative, multi-generational mentoring programs. As we foster a strong female community, SWSG is building a brighter, broader future for all girls and women.

Cambridge Families of Color Coalition: ($30,000): The Cambridge Families of Color Coalition (CFCC) is a collective of Families and Students of Color working to uplift, empower, celebrate, and nurture our students and each other. Their work is rooted in racial, social, and economic equity. Our goal is to see Cambridge Public Schools be a place where Students of Color thrive academically, socially, emotionally, physically, and in spirit.

The Prosperity Foundation: ($150,000): The Prosperity Foundation (TPF) believes that by creating a participatory philanthropic vehicle focused on improving the lives of Connecticut’s Black communities.

Cambridge Community Foundation: ($50,000): The Cambridge Community Foundation serves as Cambridge’s local giving platform — built, funded, and guided by residents since 1916. They are a convener and catalyst for transformative change.

Boston Debate League: ($50,000): The Boston Debate League offers debate and argumentation programs for young people in Greater Boston, with a commitment to serving students of color and other students who have been denied these educational opportunities.

Maine-Wabanaki REACH: ($50,000): Wabanaki REACH is a cross-cultural collaboration that successfully supported the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Latinos for Education: ($150,000): The organization’s mission is to develop, place and connect essential Latino leaders in the education sector. We are building an ecosystem of Latino advocates by infusing Latino talent into positions of influence.

Education Reimagined: ($100,000): Education Reimagined is firmly committed to the creation of a racially just and equitable world where every child is loved, honored, and supported such that their boundless potential is unleashed.

Education Funder Strategy Group: ($200,000): The Education Funder Strategy Group (EFSG) is a learning community of leading foundations focused on education policy from early childhood to college and career readiness and success.

The Welcome Project: ($100,000): The Welcome Project builds the collective power of immigrants to participate in and shape community decisions. Through programming that strengthens the capacity of immigrant youth, adults and families to advocate for themselves and influence schools, government, and other institutions.

Continuing the fight against COVID-19 and systemic racism was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Welcoming New Team Members to the Foundation

Over the past year, Nellie Mae has grown our work in several ways, from the implementation of our new grant strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education, to continuing to learn how to best serve as an engaged and supportive grantmaker. We have also expanded as a staff over these past several months and are excited to welcome five new team members who together bring a vast array of knowledge and experience to our organization.

Alex Toussaint, Senior Accountant

Alex Toussaint joined the Foundation in April 2020. Prior to joining Nellie Mae, Alex worked as an independent business consultant for small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals around business strategy and personal finance. He also has experience as an elementary school educator. Alex is passionate about promoting financial literacy, as well as educational justice.

Julita Bailey-Vasco, Senior Communications Manager

Julita Bailey-Vasco joined the Foundation in October 2020. Prior to her work at Nellie Mae, Julita worked at Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit that leads the workforce and education system in achieving economic advancement for all. Julita is committed to the work of an equitable education system in hopes of restoring a fraction of what has been stolen from Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color.

Michael G. Williams Jr., Program Officer

Michael G. Williams Jr. joined the Foundation in October 2020. Prior to his work at Nellie Mae, Michael worked at Duet, a non-profit that partners with the University of Southern New Hampshire to help students of color enroll in and complete degree programs. Michael brings a strong dedication to community-centered service; this commitment has led him to roles in community organizing, politics, and nonprofit case management and partnership development focused on helping young people achieve their educational and career goals.

Kathiana Amazan, Program Associate

Kathiana Amazan started at Nellie Mae in November 2020. Prior to joining the Foundation, Kathiana served as the Operations Coordinator for the Letters Foundation, an organization that provided one-time humanitarian grants to individuals experiencing hardship when no other options existed. A first-generation student and Boston Public Schools graduate, Kathiana believes all students should have access to equitable public education and opportunities to realize their full potential.

Lucas Codognolla, Senior Manager of Partnerships and Advocacy

Lucas Codognolla is joining the foundation at the end of December 2020. Prior to joining Nellie Mae, Lucas served as the founding Executive Director of Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), a youth-led, statewide network fighting for the rights of undocumented youth and their families. A community organizer at heart, Lucas is a relationship-builder and passionate about using his positionality to leverage resources for and with communities of color.

Welcoming New Team Members to the Foundation was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Educators for Black Lives

Educators have demanding careers. Teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented another set of challenges for educators. Being thrust into adapting to virtual learning is no easy feat. While navigating the challenges of COVID-19 within their virtual classrooms, educators also took on the role and responsibility of reassuring Black students and their families that their lives mattered. As a result of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and too many others at the hands of police officers, we’ve seen educators facilitate and engage in necessary and courageous conversations around racism and anti-Blackness. Many of these conversations have been led by Black educators who do the heavy lifting while remaining overwhelmingly under-represented and undervalued in public schools across the United States.

Like countless educators, we have seen the videos and hashtags that have spread across social media in recent months. We’ve seen the devastating impacts of COVID-19 across the world, and we know that this pain and devastation is only heightened for the Black community, where the impacts of this virus disproportionately fall. We have also witnessed the uprising against anti-Black racism in New England communities and across the globe. We hear both the pain and hope in the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter. We, alongside other philanthropic organizations across the nation, have been reminded that while COVID-19 is new, systemic racism affecting Black communities and anti-Blackness are foundational to the United States. Inequities persist for many Black communities who have been underserved and defunded for generations — Black educators and students matter.

At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, our mission is to champion efforts that prioritize community goals that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered public education for all New England youth. We are committed to using our power and privilege as a philanthropic organization to support efforts that challenge racism and anti-Blackness.

Earlier this year, we announced our new grantmaking strategy that puts our focus on advancing racial equity in public education. However, with the onset of the pandemic, we realized this wasn’t enough. We created a rapid response fund, Racism is a Virus Too, to address both Asian American Pacific Islander communities impacted by anti-Asian racism and xenophobia as well as other communities of color disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Today we are proud to announce the recipients of another rapid response fund, Educators for Black Lives. In response to the incredible work of the Black Lives Matter movement and the pervasive issue of anti-Black racism, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is supporting educators who have been at the forefront of facilitating necessary and courageous conversations and practices centered on eradicating anti-Blackness in their virtual classrooms, schools, and communities across New England. These projects are rooted in challenging anti-Blackness and centering the voices, perspectives, and experiences of Black people. We are proud to support all of these educators and organizations and look forward to continuing in the work of advancing racial equity with them.

You can learn more about our Educators for Black Lives grantees below:

Educators for Black Lives was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Our Work Continues

Every Vote Counts | Nikkolas Smith (IG: @nikkolas_smith) | Commissioned by Culture Surge

Democracy has spoken — voters have selected new leaders to move us forward to a better future. It’s time we come together to ensure the will of the people prevails.

We know that our work to advance racial equity in our public education system continues. This year has been challenging for so many reasons. Many who have had the privilege of ignoring white supremacy in their everyday lives have now seen it laid bare through the double pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic, anti-Black racism — seeping through all aspects of our society — from our healthcare system, to our schools and institutions of learning, to our democracy.

This election season, we’ve seen real threats to our system of public education. The current administration has sought to institute “patriotic education” that whitewashes and misleads our young people, ignoring calls for more relevant curriculum that reflects their cultures and histories. At a time when COVID-19 is prompting overdue conversations about equitable access to education and supports for students, families, and educators in the era of virtual and hybrid learning, the Secretary of Education has tried to redirect CARES Act resources from public schools to private ones.

In the midst of a pandemic that has left more than 200,000 of our loved ones dead and created the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, we have turned out in record numbers to vote. Voters have faced deliberate barriers from long lines to attempts to eliminate drop off locations.

Regardless, we have made our voices heard to pick new leaders who will care and govern for all of us. In fact, the number of early voters under 30 who were voting for the first time more than doubled from 2016. Our hope is that they are leading the way toward an America that truly lives up to its promise for everyone.

Now we will hold our new government to account — to not merely tackle the crises the last government created — but to make this a place where all of us can thrive, especially those that have been most harmed by our current systems and practices.

For the sake of our democracy; for the futures of our young people, we are marching on. For us, this means investing in our future by ensuring that all of our young people have access to an equitable and excellent, student-centered education that honors their individuality, culture and history. From recruiting and retaining educators of color, to rethinking disciplinary practices, to implementing anti-racist teaching and learning, to removing police from schools — let’s commit to ensuring our young people feel valued, known and supported in their growth and in exercising their gifts and power.

We remain committed to standing up and behind our partners in the fight against white supremacy and anti-Blackness, especially in our education system. We know that so many of you have been tirelessly working at this day in and day out. And while we celebrate the integrity of the vote-counting process across the country, we know the work is not done. We remain committed to fighting for a more just and equitable world, and still envision a future where all children and youth have access to an equitable and excellent public education. The words of Ijeoma Oluo remind us, “This election doesn’t change the work we need to do, it just determines how much harder that work may be.” The work continues.

Our Work Continues was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Are The Kids Really Alright?

Reopening Our Region’s Public Schools Amidst a Pandemic and Racial Reckoning

A year unlike any other, we’ve witnessed the deep inequities in our society laid bare by the two pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. During this session, Nick Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will speak with community and school leaders from across the New England region about how school reopening is going, and what working towards a more equitable and just future for schooling in our region looks like. Join us for a conversation on November 5, 2020 at 10:OO AM with The Boston Globe.

Register Here.

Are The Kids Really Alright? was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How Pa’lante is Facing the Dual Pandemics of COVID-19 and Anti-Black Racism (Romeo Romero Sigle…

How Pa’lante is Facing the Dual Pandemics of COVID-19 and Anti-Black Racism (Romeo Romero Sigle Interview Part 4)

We got the chance to talk to Romeo Romero Sigle, Assistant Director of Pa’lante in Holyoke, MA, about the history of the organization, Pa’lante’s current youth-led and anti-racist work, and how the group has adjusted their practices and strategy during COVID-19. This is part four of a four-part blog post about Pa’lante. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

This interview was conducted prior to the beginning of the school year.

How has COVID-19 impacted Pa’lante?

It had a very, very big impact on us, because so much of what we do is in-person connection. And we’re a school-based program, so when schools closed in March we very quickly switched to Zoom’s platform. Our Zoom meetings were pretty well attended and we continued working on our campaign for the random search policy, and we actually won that campaign during COVID. And then we’ve done a lot of celebrating of the seniors who are moving on because we usually do that in person. But largely the circle process we haven’t done too much over Zoom just because it really does take away some of the magic of it.

Even if we do go back [this fall] we’re probably not going to be able to have all of our peer leaders in the same room, we’re not going to be able to pass a talking piece between people, and we may not even be able to take students out of their classrooms. There’s a lot of logistics that we don’t even really know. I have to imagine we’ll be able to do something, whether it’s over Zoom or in person. We’re still waiting on more information before going into planning mode, so there’s mostly a lot of ideas and trust that we will still get to do important work.

We’re currently in a moment where movements for anti-racism, which have been going on for years, are in the spotlight. Has that impacted Pa’lante, either in how others view you and support you or the work you do yourselves?

Students were ready and prepared, and a lot of our students were out there protesting, speaking at rallies, and really calling for that kind of change. And I know students now are really motivated more than ever to get police out of schools — it’s something we’ve talked about for a long time and it’s never felt like we’ve had the political leverage to truly make that happen until “defund the police” started becoming a household phrase. We’ve actually had some pretty open conversations with our administration about what police look like and why Pa’lante doesn’t stand for police in schools, and we’ve never been able to have those conversations before. So even doing that has felt like a positive step in the right direction.

And Pa’lante leadership has been really pulled into thinking about what anti-racism looks like for our school. Our whole district recently decided that they have the intention of becoming an anti-racist organization, so if anything, people are looking to us as experts, for something that they are now realizing they don’t know a lot about. I think we’re well-positioned to continue to make positive change in terms of racism broadly and the relationship between racial justice and educational equity.

Where does restorative and transformative justice fit into the movement for anti-racism?

I think that most people who will probably read this interview know that mass incarceration is a problem in the United States. And so it’s natural to say “defund the police” and “abolish the police” and “abolish prisons”. But those movements will not work unless we have an alternative. We need to know what the next step is. And I think restorative justice and transformative justice really invite us to 1) think about the world beyond the conditions that currently exist and 2) to think about how the strongest thing we can do is if we have communities that have strong enough relationships, then we don’t need police, because we’re able to hold ourselves in that community without an outside force coming in and creating more havoc than before. Restorative justice helps people figure out how to have healthy conflict, and transformative justice helps us think about how to have a world without police and what that looks like, and both of those are really necessary to the current demands of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

What are some goals that Pa’lante has, both short-term and long-term?

One of our primary goals is having a full-time staff person at the Dean campus who can hold down both during-the-day circle work and afterschool YPAR work. It’s really important because that school is a technical school and historically has been underfunded and under-resourced, even in comparison to Holyoke High which is underfunded and under-resourced. Creating equity between those two campuses is a huge priority.

More conversations about anti-racism in school, particularly police in schools, is a big goal for a lot of students right now. Thinking about our next YPAR project — it seems like there’s a lot of energy for students to start thinking about removing our School Resource Officers in the district and replacing them with a different kind of SEL support. Other goals are to increase parent involvement in our community advisory board, and the biggest goal probably is figuring out how we can continue to do our work during COVID, which is just this big looming question that will probably divert a lot of our attention at least for the next six months, if not for a year or two.

How Pa’lante is Facing the Dual Pandemics of COVID-19 and Anti-Black Racism (Romeo Romero Sigle… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Healing and Agency: Restorative Justice at Work (Romeo Romero Sigle Interview Part 2)

We got the chance to talk to Romeo Romero Sigle, Assistant Director of Pa’lante in Holyoke, MA, about the history of the organization, Pa’lante’s current youth-led and anti-racist work, and how the group has adjusted their practices and strategy during COVID-19. This is part two of a four-part blog post about Pa’lante. You can read part one here.

What would you describe is the meaning of restorative justice, and has it/approaches to it changed over time?

The program really came about because in Holyoke we had the fourth highest suspension rate of Latinx students in the entire country. And there became this critique of the traditional discipline system and people were researching alternatives and came upon the idea of restorative justice.

The restorative justice movement was started in the 80’s and 90’s, looking at how to transform criminal justice systems, and it was slowly brought into schools after that. The idea of restorative justice is that rather than punishing people when harm happens, you can bring people together and put together a community to figure out what amends or what care needs to happen. If two students fight for example, and you suspend them, then they come back but nothing is resolved. Whereas if you do a restorative justice process, you can get to the root of the issue — why were you fighting, what do you need to feel safe in the building — and you can repair those things.

And in some situations I think that’s sufficient. But in the last ten years or so this idea of transformative justice also came about, and our program really strives to embody that as well. Transformative justice is more interested in thinking about the conditions that created harm in the first place, often thinking about systems of oppression and what can we do to create a world in which harm doesn’t have to happen the way that it happens currently. So we do both of those things, we offer lots of healthy conflict options for students and we do youth organizing to think about the structures in the school that make it so students are feeling like they need to fight with each other and fight with adults in the building, and take some of it off of the interpersonal and more on the structural.

Can you go deeper into how indigenous circle practice works?

The basis of our program is learning this indigenous circle practice. The idea is the more we get into circle, the more that we embody a way of being that really centers everyone’s humanity, everyone’s dignity, everyone’s sovereignty. We learned this practice from our teacher Dr. Sayra Pinto, who studied with Mohawk folk, Wampanoag folk, and Tlingit folk, so we really cherish the heritage and the tradition that we were able to adopt this process from. And I think that the restorative justice movement as a whole has learned a lot from indigenous people, and in some cases has co-opted circle practice in such a way that you can see circle being used as a form of control and punishment, and we don’t believe in that. And it’s really different than most things that happen in school, because you’re sitting in a circle rather than listening to a teacher at the front of the room, and when you have that talking piece, you can’t be policed. It really is a lot about choice and agency and choosing how to heal your own heart with the presence of a loving community.

Can you talk a little bit about the Youth Participatory Action Research Projects?

Every year the students take up what we call a YPAR project, or youth participatory action research. This is where students think about what’s going on in their schools, what kinds of injustices they’ve witnessed, what they might want to put their energy into changing, and then once they choose a topic, they research the problem. And then once they’ve done some research, they decide to take some action to make change. The very first YPAR project we did was around an in-house suspension room that they called the “student support room.” And so students did all of this research about what an actual student support room would look like, and they were able to make a proposal to school leadership to change the whole room. Now you walk in there and there’s art on the wall, and there’s comfy chairs to sit in, and art supplies, an exercise bike, and there’s multiple therapeutic professionals to talk with students about what’s going on for them. And it’s a space that students can access any time in the day, and if they need longer term support, they get connected to what they need. So that’s one example of a YPAR project where students were like “this is a problem and we want something different” and they were able to make that happen. And I was talking a little bit about the random search policy — that was our YPAR project from this year, and the Hidden Legends was our YPAR project from last year.

In our next installment, we dive into the community’s reaction to Pa’lante’s work, how staff members challenge adultism, and the influence of the Young Lords’ legacy on Pa’lante’s work.

Healing and Agency: Restorative Justice at Work (Romeo Romero Sigle Interview Part 2) was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Prioritizing Mental Wellnesss Amidst Virtual Learning

Prioritizing Mental Wellness Amidst Virtual Learning

As the two pandemics of COVID-19 and anti-Black racism rage on, young people across our region are faced with compounding burdens that are putting strains on their personal lives, well-being and educational experience.

As students ourselves, we know full well how the effects of isolation, nationwide protests around systemic racism and seeing the murders of more Black people at the hands of police, coupled with experiencing remote learning for the first time, and different family circumstances have had on our mental health.

We also recognize that remote learning is not the same experience for every student. Across our region, many students do not have reliable access to high-speed internet access, and many young people have had to take on the roles of caretaking or working to support their families, making it difficult to join remote classes or complete assignments on time.

We are proud to have collaborated with The Nellie Mae Education Foundation to design a youth-led rapid response grant fund aimed at supporting young people across the region with remote learning and mental health supports. We invite you to read the full Request for Proposals here.

Lydia Mann, Granite State Organizing Project

Mealaktey Sok, ARISE (Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education)

Niamiah Jefferson, ARISE (Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education)

Prioritizing Mental Wellnesss Amidst Virtual Learning was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.