Announcing New Grant Commitments

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels

Today, on the heels of the start of the first in-person school year for many in over 18 months, we are thrilled to announce grant commitments to organizations that continue the work of advancing racial equity in our public education system. We are pleased to announce new grant commitments to organizations as part of our Supporting Organizations Led by People of Color and Advancing Community School Partnerships grant funds.

Supporting Organizations Led by People of Color

We believe that organizations led by people of color are in the best position to organize and lift up the invaluable voices of students, families, and communities who have been traditionally excluded from decisions made about their schools. These organizations are advocating for racial equity in New England schools, such as: implementing culturally responsive teaching and learning; diversifying the teacher workforce; establishing restorative justice practices in schools; and wraparound services and supports for children, youth, and families.

Advancing Community-School Partnerships

Additionally, at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we believe that when schools work in partnership with community-based organizations, students are better positioned to receive the community supports they need to thrive. We know that when community members are welcomed into the school environment and play a key role in decision-making, all young people benefit. Today, we are also pleased to announce grants as a part of our Advancing Community-School Partnerships fund, aimed at supporting community-driven partnerships between districts and their communities to advance racial equity and excellent, student-centered public education.

Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part…

Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Four)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment delves into more of Outright’s anti-racism work and goals for the future. This is part four of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

We’re in a moment where movements for anti-racism are in the national spotlight. How has this current moment affected Outright Vermont’s work?

What’s true is that we know this is not new work, these are certainly not new needs, and these are not new conversations for black and brown folks and for our social justice movement work. The amplification and national spotlight has created a different level of opportunity, accountability, and inability to turn away. I think that’s primarily what has shifted. There are lots of ways youth are doing their own work and leading at some of the intersections of creating an anti-racist, anti-transphobic community, school system, and GSA. Some of these efforts are happening around School Resource Officers in schools, work Outright’s youth organizers are choosing to be part of organizing in their local communities and towns. Vermont is unique in that even though we are a small state, schools and communities are at really different starting places of progress, based most often on the level of community backlash and conservative politics they are navigating. Some youth are organizing to have the Black Lives Matter flag raised, while others are intentionally bringing in conversations around implicit bias and white supremacy. But it’s important to note that based on the previous administrations’ active emboldening of racism and hate, the level of backlash and threat is pretty shocking. The insurrection at the Capital brought to light just where we are as a country. It feels like we are at a tipping point, and it’s on all of us to show up for this work right now. Black and Brown folks have been erased, ostracized, and pushed out for way too long. It’s on all of us to wrestle with the questions and really ask what shifts people are making in this moment. It’s not a time to be comfortable. That’s never when change happens. As LGBTQ+ folks, with experiences of coming out and transitioning, we can tap into our lived experiences with transformation to know that liberation isn’t comfortable, but it’s necessary.

What are some goals that Outright Vermont has, both short-term and long-term?

Some of the work we’re up to is deeply internal — tuning our organizational capacity to be right-sized so as to set a strong foundation for the years to come. Some of that is about systems attunement, from fundraising and evaluation, to program growth and communications. Some of it is about accountability to our commitments as a staff and board to keep an anti-racism practice front and center, so we can make sure not to move from places of white supremacy, and can course correct when we do. You know, there has long been a sense for many non-profits that we have to work from a scarcity model — as an LGBTQ+ organization that inherently moves through a landscape wherein we are not the majority, I think we may get that burden of expectation to stay small more than many. So part of our work as a radical and transformative organization is to say “we get to take up space, we get to be here, we get to have the things that we need in order to be healthy and sustainable and thriving for years to come.”

One of our programmatic goals is to grow Camp Outright, starting with doubling the number of sessions we hold. Our organizational strategic plan really centers outreach and access to the most marginalized of youth, so that all LGBTQ+ youth throughout Vermont have hope, equity, and power. We are prioritizing efforts of care and mentorship with QTBIPOC youth, and being intentional about how we spend time and attention showing up for our partner orgs in this work together.

It’s not missed on anyone that it’s been a really hard and devastating year; when we’re talking about a population of folks who were already five times more likely than their cis/het peers to have attempted suicide in the past year (2019), who are already feeling disconnected and isolated and struggling to feel like they matter in their communities, adding the pandemic to that landscape has been really challenging. We will continue our work to make sure that youth know there’s always somebody who has their back, and we will continue to work structural and systems change so we can see a different tomorrow. Some of the programs we offer will always continue to have their place in the form they are now, and other pieces will continue to expand so that we’re more effectively having impact for those that need us most.

For a small, Vermont non-profit to have secure funding beyond one year out is a pretty radical accomplishment in and of itself, and something we’ve been working hard to cultivate over time. To have that backing in the form of multi-year grants from folks like Nellie Mae and other foundations who recognize the importance of saying ‘here’s a little breathing room, we believe in the work you’re doing and we trust you to use the money where you need it in order to keep moving forward in your mission’… That’s a massive gift!

Another interesting and really important thing happening in the world of philanthropy right now is more conversations about what it means re-distribute wealth and engage in direct reckoning of the ways money is tied to race and racism. Having transparent and explicit exchanges around how people have even gotten access to their wealth and what it looks like to really shift dynamics is something we are invested in organizationally. This isn’t just a conversation to have at the program level; it’s a conversation that needs to happen in the board room, with donors, and with youth. We really appreciate collaborating with foundations like Nellie Mae — so clear in your vision and commitments to creating equitable educational spaces. It’s truly an honor for Outright to be part of your orbit.

Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about you’d like to mention?

One thing that doesn’t get talked about that much, but feels really important, is the joy and beauty of being LGBTQ+, of being a trans person, and youth getting to celebrate that part of themselves and their identity that’s often the basis of hurt and harm in other spaces. Media coverage tends to focus on the disproportionate health outcomes that exist — the bullying, the self-harm, the suicide, and the very real and serious health equity considerations that deserve our attention. But we also need to create spaces for joy, so that queer and trans people can honor and celebrate those special parts of ourselves, because there is something very beautiful about our identities, and too often the focus is on stories of tragedy and harm. Working towards liberation and justice for LGBTQ+ people ultimately makes the world better for all of us. Working for a world that is free of racism makes the world better for all of us. As much we have to talk about the harm, it’s also really important that we make space for the joy and the celebration. There is hopefulness that comes when we all have the chance to be our true selves, with the love and care and resources we need to do just that.

Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Youth Leaders and Adult Allies (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Three)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment explores Outright’s work with non-LGBTQ+ and adult allies as well as the importance of youth leadership. This is part three of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Can you speak about some of your work that is focused on allies who are not LGBTQ+, and how you balance that work with the work you do supporting queer youth?

We are here to change systems and culture, so that youth are validated in their identity and experiences when they’re with like-minded, LGBTQ+ folks, AND when they go back into their home environments. We need the dial moving forward! A huge part of our work is to bring folks along who might unintentionally — or sometimes intentionally — cause hurt and harm to our communities. There are folks on staff who spend the majority of their time working with adult allies. We are here first and foremost for youth, and we recognize that to make things better for youth, we need to look at the people and places of power with an ability to create change and help them do that work. Heterosexism and cissexism depend on cisgender and heterosexual folks not knowing their moments to show up differently. Just like it’s on white folks to recognize where white supremacy and racism harms us. It’s our responsibility to show up differently and do that work so folks of color have what they need and the space to be able to live their lives and dreams. It’s on all of us.

Allies need to have their own spaces to work their stuff out. We don’t want that to happen in such a way that youth are having to carry that burden — that’s why we have family programs and family spaces, because it’s not the responsibility of youth to have to do that educating. But yeah, we have some spaces that are just for LGBTQ+ identified folks. And other dedicated spaces for everybody, regardless of identity. We do our best to be mindful of tending to all the things and people and spaces with intentionality.

What is the importance of having a space where queer youth are not only supported, but are active leaders?

Youth are the experts of their own lives. They know what they need. Especially when we’re looking at LGBTQ+ youth and the places where homophobia and transphobia rob them of the ability to voice what’s needed — for example, it’s inaccurate and transphobic ideology to say that youth are too young to know their gender identity, when we know that that part of your brain forms between the ages of two and four. So when a youth says “I know I’m non-binary,” or “I know I’m trans,” it’s our responsibility to listen, and meet them with, “thank you for telling me. Thank you for letting me in. What do you need? How can I support you? What are your pronouns and what’s your name?”

Our being here is and has always been about working to change the toxicity that youth navigate, so that everyone can live the life they want and need. It’s not enough for us to just give someone a Band-Aid when they’re hurt; it’s our responsibility to say “how did you get hurt? What are the root causes of the set-up, and how can we together create change in this environment so that doesn’t happen again?” Youth are the ones that know because they’re living it! The most powerful and radical thing that adults can do is get out of the way and let youth lead, because they are the ones that know. We see that happening all over the world in terms of youth at the forefront of all sorts of social movements. It’s our responsibility to leave things better than we found them — youth are the ones paving the way for that work to happen.

How do you and other adults involved with the organization ensure that Outright Vermont is truly youth led?

It’s a process! We have the opportunity every single day to check where we’re coming from, to make sure we are living our values. We ask ourselves how to make sure we’re not tokenizing youth, how to meaningfully engage youth in the work so that when we’re planning priorities for the year, those priorities are coming directly from youth, which then becomes the road map for the work the organization takes on. Those priorities: training for teachers, inclusive queer sexual health education, having more gender neutral or gender-free facilities, harm repair, and access for all — that is direction we take from youth specifically, which informs the ways we’re making moves in our programs and staffing. We are also paying youth for their time and expertise, through our youth organizing program (thanks to the Nellie Mae Foundation!) and other youth mentorship roles. The structures for youth leadership within the organization have taken various forms over the years; but the form follows the function — and the function is always working to ensure that youth power is meaningfully woven throughout all facets of what we are up to.

In our final installment next Friday, we’ll delve into some goals Outright has for the future, including some of the anti-racist work Outright youth are doing. Stay tuned for more!

Youth Leaders and Adult Allies (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Three) was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Outright Vermont: Programs Amidst a Pandemic (Interview with Dana Kaplan Part Two)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment delves into some of Outright’s programming and how they’ve adjusted to COVID19. This is part two of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1.

Can you give a couple of examples of programs and events Outright runs?

Much of what we’re up to is creating opportunities for young people to connect, to have access to conversations that they wouldn’t otherwise get to be a part of. In a rural and remote state like Vermont, it can be hard for folks to access location-specific programming, so having everything go online has been helpful for youth and families that couldn’t otherwise get to our events and groups.

We run both one-off, statewide events and we also have our recurring weekly and monthly affinity-based social and support groups. An example of a bigger event we run is the Queer and Allied Youth Summit, which happens every May in a different and rotating location each year. It’s a 24-hour gathering of 200+ youth that typically includes a march and a speak out, youth led workshops, a townhall, a queer prom, and a sleepout. Pure community celebration, and for many, the first time they’ve seen so many peers like them!

A new event the team put together last year was based on what staff were hearing on the ground from youth themselves. We held a Lavender Commencement. For so many LGBTQ+ youth, commencement is not a given — whether they are enrolled in a more typical high school program or any other sort of degree or journey with a beginning, middle, and end. The cards are stacked such that it’s harder to be set up for success, right? That’s literally how inequity functions. So making it through school is big! We wanted to help validate and affirm their success, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Writer, activist, and trans visionary extraordinaire Alok Vaid-Menon gifted youth their new book, and they shared some beautiful words of wisdom, too. It was really sweet and special, and something we hope to continue to do from here on out.

We also run our week-long summer camp which I talked about earlier; this year we are committed to doubling the program, as we intend to run two sessions of camp, based on the need. Last year camp registration for 65 campers was full in just 33 minutes, so the need is real. It’s your typical summer camp with a queer, social justice twist. Dates for Camp are set — July 1–16 — and we are remaining hopeful that we can run it in-person.

In the winter, we also do winter camp reunion to help folks remember the community they have, even in the off-season. Another big event we coordinate is Leadership Day at the statehouse. Youth from across Vermont gather to meet with their legislators and talk about the issues most impacting their lives. We also do a panel with Legislators who identify as LGBTQ, and they talk about the intersections of what it means to be a representative, hold that level of power, and how to do it all while celebrating individual identities. It’s important for youth to see their futures as full of possibilities. It’s also an opportunity for youth to testify in committees on issues that matter most to them — Outright youth have been at the center of creating some important bills that impact their lives, like the gender neutral bathroom bill and testifying about the detrimental impact of conversation therapy.

You touched on this, but is there anything else about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected OV’s work?

We are definitely having to respond in different ways to issues that are coming up for youth that might not otherwise have been as obvious or pressing without COVID. There are so many youth who don’t have safe or consistent access to technology or the internet, so we’ve worked with some of them directly, and gotten tremendous support from the Vermont Department of Health to distribute the technology they need to remain connected in a virtual world. Often times, our connection to youth has been through the school system, so without school running as usual to be that bridge, we’ve had a different opportunity to go directly to youth. In May we did a statewide Needs Assessment to see what queer and trans youth were needing in response to COVID. A lot of what we heard back was spaces for connection, celebration, and fun. Some folks also talked about the need for support around being stuck in quarantine with abusive or unsupportive family members, or the lack of routine throwing off their ability to care for themselves, or the difficulty in accessing affirming medical care given how inundated health providers are. So there’s been a different level of some basic needs support and safety planning support that typically might otherwise be held by the schools.

We’ve also been doing more mutual aid. In September we did an outside traveling tour of Vermont, bringing gender-affirming supplies and grocery cards to different towns to make sure that some of youths’ most basic needs were being met. In some cases we were just there to say “hi” and be an IRL LGBTQ+ person! Sometimes youth aren’t seeing anyone else like them in their towns and communities, so just showing up and saying “hey I see you, I’m here with you” is an important part of what we’ve been up to.

Next Friday, we’ll explore the importance of centering youth voice and leadership, as well as how Outright works with allies to make the world safer for LGBTQ+ youth. Stay tuned for more!

Outright Vermont: Programs Amidst a Pandemic (Interview with Dana Kaplan Part Two) was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana…

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana Kaplan Part 1)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment offers an intro to Outright’s work and their commitment to anti-racism. This is part one of a four-part interview series about Outright.

Can you give an introduction about what Outright Vermont is?

Outright Vermont is hope, equity, and power alongside LGBTQ+ youth. We are Vermont’s only youth-facing organization for queer, trans, non-binary, questioning, and allied folks. We help create peer connections for youth, strengthen families, and transform communities, systems, and schools. We are here for the joy and the comradery, the education and the rabble-rousing!

How long have you been at Outright Vermont, and what growth have you seen in your time there?

As an organization, Outright is now in its 32nd year! It started back in 1989 when a group of community members came together after recognizing the need to break the barriers of isolation and harm that were disproportionately impacting LGBTQ+ youth. I’ve been with the organization eight years now. Our North Star has always been to uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ youth while working to change the systems that create the most harm for young people. The ways in which we’ve done that and the stakeholders we’ve brought in have transformed over time. We’ve started working with youth as young as 3, and we’ve added family programming, because we recognize the connection between familial and community support and positive health outcomes for youth. We’ve grown tremendously in terms of our work with schools and gender and sexuality alliances (GSAs), which are peer-based support and activism groups within schools.

In your mission, you commit to anti-racist principles and practice. How have you incorporated that lens into your work?

It is a responsibility of all of ours to recognize the ways that white supremacy creates harm for everybody. Especially as a white leader in a state that’s 94% white; it’s in the air we breathe, but with different levels of impact on our QTBIPOC community. It’s important that we approach our work from an intersectional lens, especially as we have a platform to impact change with queer and trans youth, who are also black, brown, and indigenous. Our commitment to anti-racism is both internal and external. Program-wise, we’ve worked hard to ensure QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth have priority access to our week-long summer camp program. Thanks to the vision and leadership of staff of color, we established an equity fund a few years ago so as to create a deeper level of accessibility for community members who couldn’t otherwise attend. We know how important affinity spaces are; some of our work is to create QTBIPOC-only space, so youth can just be with each other without the whiteness that they have to navigate all the time. Some of that work looks like white folks being in conversation and accountable to each other and our QTBIPOC community members around what they need from their white peers. Camp is often the test-run for year-round programs, since we get a full week living together in intentionally crafted community, so we can see what’s needed and what works, and build from there.

In the past year, we created an Advisory group held by QTBIPOC community members, the purpose of which is to look at what’s needed in this moment according to youth, based on their experiences and expertise. They will guide the direction of what’s needed in terms of programming that’s specifically built for and with them at the center.

Part of our commitment is also to use the platforms we have to create space for learning and conversations around race and anti-racism, intersectionality, white supremacy, and harm repair. So when our Education team goes into schools and people ask for tips on how to create culture change to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, we also need to uplift the fact that queer and trans people are Black and Brown people. Racism intersects with classism intersects with homophobia and we can’t be siloed in these conversations, or we won’t achieve true liberation.

What’s true is that we are a work in progress. That’s part of the way that white supremacy culture is harmful to us all. We’re taught not to be vulnerable, we are taught to expect — especially as white folks — that we have all of the answers, often at the expense of folks of color. It’s not true, it’s not fair, and it robs us all of a richer, more meaningful existence. It’s our responsibility to engage in these conversations, and most especially with young people at an early age. We’re in a collective moment where it’s impossible to imagine how everybody gets to have their needs met if we’re not rooting these conversations in the systems of oppression that are enacting the harm.

Next Friday, we’ll delve into some of Outright’s programs and events, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has effected their work. Stay tuned for more!

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana… 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.

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.

Interview Series with Pa’lante’s Romeo Romero Sigle Pt. 1

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 one of a four-part blog post about Pa’lante.

Pt 1.

Can you start off by giving a basic introduction of Pa’lante?

Pa’lante is a school-based organization that works with students, community members, teachers, and staff to rethink our relationship with the school-to-prison pipeline — dismantle it, work against it, fight for a different way of having education in predominantly communities of color, and develop youth leadership and youth organizing. During the school day we host restorative justice circles that are based in indigenous circle practice. We try to use that practice to repair harm that happens in the building, to give students an alternative to traditional discipline. And then after school we’re thinking about those systemic issues that affect students, like why are students fighting, why are students getting pushed out, why are students suspended? We know it’s because of racism and youth oppression and all the different –isms that affect our world, and students come together every year and choose a specific issue to research and take action on to make the school a better place.

How long have you been at Pa’lante, and what growth have you seen over your time there?

I’ve been with Pa’lante for three years, and a lot has changed. The heart of the program has always been the same which is just building up a liberatory space for young people to exist. But we have grown a lot. We’ve expanded to the second Holyoke High campus [the Dean campus], which is a technical school which has several hundred students, whereas the main campus has 1400 students.

We also have launched this alumni fellowship program, which is really in line with our mission of creating a leadership pipeline that can be an alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline. We were noticing that these students we’d been working with would graduate and sometimes would be just left out to dry; you have this really supportive community at school, and then sometimes that transition out of high school into the “real world” can be hard. So we decided to put resources into creating an option for alumni once they graduate to come back and work for the school, which simultaneously helps them because they get to stay connected and get job experience — but then it’s double wonderful because they’re young folks who have dealt with the struggles that can relate to the students at the school in a way that a lot of the adults who are in the building just don’t.

In the past couple of years we have taken up a lot of projects that have been really successful — there’s tangible positive things that have happened every year when students come together to ask for what they want. This past year, we organized against a random search policy that was proposed, and we ended up rolling back that policy so it’s no longer in place. We were able to create this whole oral history project with what we call the Hidden Legends of Holyoke — those Latinx community organizers who have been there doing the work long before Pa’lante existed and connecting our young folks with older organizers and doing some oral history and getting that into a permanent installation in the buildings so that student have access to their history. So I’ve definitely seen the school change around us as more young people feel empowered to transform their school.

So you mentioned one end of the leadership pipeline as students graduate — but how do students get involved in Pa’lante in the first place?

Students do have to do a written application, then we do what we call an info session, which is an opportunity for them to learn about our work, but also it’s an interview process to see how people are showing up in the space — we do social justice education activities with them and see how folks are engaging with each other. Once someone gets into Pa’lante, they are a peer leader for their entire high school career if they want to be. We do recruitment, we do outreach to all the classes, and then together we just make decisions based off of people’s passion, people’s commitment, diversity in the sense of getting folks from all different parts of the school so that no matter where a conflict arises there’s someone connected to that part of the school. And most students do stay until they graduate.

Next Friday, we’ll explore the meaning of restorative justice, Indigenous circle practice, and Pa’lante’s Youth Participatory Action Research Projects. Stay tuned for more!

Interview Series with Pa’lante’s Romeo Romero Sigle Pt. 1 was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Announcing our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color and Amplifying Youth Voice grant…

Announcing our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color and Amplifying Youth Voice grant recipients

As movements to combat systemic racism and anti-Blackness progress throughout the country, we have a moral and civic responsibility to foster a public education system that enables all of our young people to succeed and our communities to thrive. We are proud to support work that advances racial equity in service of an excellent and equitable public education during such an important moment for our society and to introduce our grantee partners who are leading these efforts.

Earlier this year, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation launched a new organizational strategy to advance racial equity in public education as the central focus of our grantmaking. Today, we are excited to take another important step in this work through two new grant funds that support youth- and community-based organizations, centered in communities of color who have been historically and systematically left out of education decision-making.

To ensure that these organizations have the supports they need to continue their important work and strengthen their development, we are providing flexible, multi-year grants. We hope this contributes to the attainment of a shared vision of high-quality, equitable public education.

Our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color grant fund will provide $100,000 annually for three years to organizations led by leaders of color who are working to transform barriers to racial equity in public education. Additionally, this fund will support these organizations in a co-designed leadership development program designed to meet their capacity building needs. These organizations are embedded in their communities and actively engage parents, youth, and educators to address issues such as dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline; promoting more culturally responsive teaching and learning; supporting immigrant students and English Language Learners; supporting students with special needs; and advocating for educator diversity.

Additionally, our Amplifying Youth Voice grant fund seeks to amplify the authentic voices of young people throughout New England, supporting their participation in decision-making that affects their futures. This grant fund will support youth organizing groups with three-year general operating support grants of $52,750 annually, as well as technical assistance focused on building their capacity, power, and voice. These brilliant and committed young people are experienced in leading campaigns such as implementing restorative justice practices in schools; promoting access to financial aid for youth who are undocumented; seeking funding for socio-emotional learning and access to mental health professionals and social workers in schools; dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline; developing ethnic studies curriculum; and advocating for inclusive policies for undocumented and LGBTQIA+ youth.

This is an early part of our strategic efforts to achieve our mission and vision as an organization and contribute to the regions’ future.

We look forward to learning from and working with these incredible organizations in the years ahead, in a collective effort to ensure our nation lives up to its promise of opportunity, equality, and justice for all.

You can learn more about both sets of grantees below.

Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color Grantees:

Make the Road CT (Bridgeport and Hartford, CT): Make the Road CT is a parent and youth organizing group focused on improving educational access and equity for public school students, empowering parents to advocate for their children within the school system, and providing training and planning resources to immigrant families with undocumented or mixed immigration status.

Step Up New London (New London, CT): Step Up is a parent organizing group focused on advocating for racial equity reforms in New London Public Schools. Step Up trains parents on community organizing and advocacy, supports parent-led efforts to advocate within the school system, and implements campaigns to push for reforms.

COMPASS Youth Collaborative (Hartford, CT): COMPASS works with schools, parents, educators, and community members to support disconnected youth, engaging them in relationships to provide supports and opportunities that help them become ready, willing, and able to succeed in education, employment, and life.

Educators for Excellence (E4E) (New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport, CT): E4E is a national organization with a Connecticut chapter serving teachers in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport. E4E strives to ensure that teachers are included in education policy decisions. The organization identifies issues that impact schools, creates solutions to these challenges, and advocates for policies and programs that give all students access to a quality education.

The Chelsea Collaborative (Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, and Revere, MA): The Chelsea Collaborative empowers Chelsea residents to enhance the social and economic health of the community and its people while holding institutional decision-makers accountable.

Southeast Asian Coalition of Central MA (SEACMA) (Worcester, MA): SEACMA supports, promotes, and advocates for the success of the Southeast Asian population of Central Massachusetts in their pursuit of naturalization while also maintaining their own unique cultural identity. SEACMA provides youth and adult programing, educational advocacy, and parent engagement opportunities while advocating for language access and culturally relevant teaching and learning.

The Young People’s Project (YPP) (Cambridge, MA): YPP uses Math Literacy Work to develop the abilities of elementary through high school students to succeed in school and in life, and in doing so involves them in efforts to eliminate institutional obstacles to their success.

Teach Western MA (TWM) (Holyoke, Springfield, and Western Massachusetts): TWM is a partnership founded by Holyoke Public Schools and the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership, representing 30 schools and serving more than 11,000 students in Western Massachusetts. TWM works on teacher recruitment, preparation and retention with a hyper focus on diversifying the workforce to reflect the demographics of the children in Holyoke and Springfield public schools and six local charter public schools.

The Teachers’ Lounge (Greater Boston, MA): The Teachers’ Lounge seeks to drive unprecedented student outcomes by greatly diversifying the people, thoughts, and actions of the educational workforce in the Greater Boston Area and beyond.

Wôpanâak Language and Cultural Weetyoo, Inc. (Mashpee, MA): Wôpanâak Language and Cultural Weetyoo, Inc. works to restore Wôpanâôt8âôk (Wôpanâak language) as the principal means of expression among the Tribes of the Wampanoag Nation, and to return language home to Tribal families. Having worked for two decades to reclaim their Native American language from an extensive archival record after generations without fluent speakers, their teachers now instruct hundreds of students each year, including K-12 Wampanaog youth in Mashpee Public Schools on Cape Cod.

Women Encouraging Empowerment (WEE) (Revere, MA): WEE’s mission is to educate, advocate, protect, and advance the rights of immigrants, refugees, and low-income women and their families through organizing, leadership development, and service delivery.

Equity Institute (Providence, RI): Equity Institute serves educators of color in Providence and other Rhode Island communities, with a focus on educator diversity, the educator pipeline, and the retention of educators of color. It develops innovative systems that cultivate culturally responsive schools and communities for all learners through organizational development, research, and networking.

Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE)(Providence, RI): ARISE mobilizes policy, programs, and partnerships to prepare, promote, and empower Rhode Island’s Southeast Asian students for educational and career success.

Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) (Providence, RI): PLEE is a parent-led, grassroots organization with a mission to fight for a parent voice in education decision-making, and for access to a high-quality public school option for all children of color.

Gedakina (Essex, VT): Gedakina is a multigenerational endeavor to strengthen and revitalize the cultural knowledge and identity of Native American youth and families from across New England, and to conserve traditional homelands and places of historical, ecological, and spiritual significance.

Amplifying Youth Voice Grantees

Citywide Youth Coalition (CWYC) (New Haven, CT): CWYC is a youth organizing group dedicated to improving access to equitable education for youth in New Haven. The organization builds youth power through education, leadership development, and anti-racist community organizing.

Blue Hills Civic Association (BHCA) (Hartford, CT): BHCA empowers the people living and working in the Blue Hills and surrounding communities to create stable and attractive neighborhoods through organizing, advocacy, and multi-generational programs.

Revere Youth in Action (RYiA) (Revere, MA): Revere Youth in Action (RYiA) builds youth power through organizing, direct education and working in coalitions for social change. It is one of the few organizations in Revere, Massachusetts that organizes for racial, immigrant and economic justice.

Student Immigrant Movement (SIM)(MA): SIM is a statewide immigrant youth-led organization whose mission is to build the power of immigrant students by identifying, recruiting, and developing leaders across Massachusetts and the United States to address the problems in their own communities.

Worcester Youth Civics Union (Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University, Worcester, MA): Worcester Youth Civics Union works to achieve student excellence by actively engaging on issues of racial and socio-economic inequality in their educational experiences.

Maine Inside Out (MIO) (Portland, ME): MIO is an organization focused on supporting incarcerated and system-impacted youth across Maine to build power, develop leadership, and create community change inside youth prisons and in communities directly impacted by mass incarceration.

The Root Social Justice Center, Youth 4 Change (Y4C) (Brattleboro, VT): Y4C provides education, outreach, and capacity building for youth organizers in Brattleboro, Vermont who are focused on promoting anti-racist community organizing.

Outright Vermont (VT): Outright Vermont’s mission is to build a Vermont where all LGBTQ+ youth have hope, equity, and power. They do this through programs that support self-discovery and peer connection, strengthening families with education and adult peer connections, and training, organizing, and networking to transform schools, communities, and systems.

Providence Student Union* (Providence, RI): Providence Student Union cultivates students to become powerful advocates for their own education and well-being, uniting youth from across Providence to take the lead in reshaping their schools and communities.

Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM)* (Providence, RI): PrYSM is a youth organization that challenges and supports Southeast Asian youth to become leaders, organizers, and critical thinkers, by offering educational workshops, leadership opportunities, mentorship, and oversight of youth-led community organizing projects.

Youth in Action* (Providence, RI): Founded in 1997 by a group of young people motivated to make change in their community, Youth in Action (YIA) is one of the pioneers of youth-led work in Providence. The organization creates opportunities for young people in Providence to become agents of change through transformative youth programming.

Portland Empowered* (Portland, ME): Located at USM’s Youth and Community Engagement team, Portland Empowered strives to ensure that historically underrepresented student and parent voices are reflected in policy and practice within Portland Public Schools.

Granite State Organizing Project’s Young Organizer United (Y.O.U.)* (Manchester and Nashua, NH): Young Organizer United (Y.O.U.) is a group of mostly immigrant and refugee students attending high school in Manchester. Y.O.U. believes that students’ voices are crucial in shaping and implementing policies that concern their education.

Hearing Youth Voices* (New London, CT): Hearing Youth Voices is a youth-led social justice organization working to create systemic change in the education system in New London, CT. The group believes that organizing is the most effective tool for youth to build power and successfully make change in their communities.

Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D)* (CT): Founded in 2010 by undocumented young people, Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D) empowers youth through community organizing, advocacy, and leadership development, as well as providing educational programming for undocumented youth. C4D is the only youth-led, statewide network in Connecticut that fights for the rights of undocumented youth and their families.

Elevated Thought* (Lawrence, MA): Elevated Thought exposes young people to the power of the arts as a tool for social change, helping them to harness their voices to transform their communities. As a community of predominantly Caribbean and Latinx immigrants, Lawrence youth face racial and economic injustices, and Elevated Thought allows Lawrence youth to leverage their creative skills to make positive transformations within their community.

Youth on Board* (YOB) (Boston, MA): Youth on Board (YOB) has been a leader in the field of youth organizing in the Boston area and beyond since 1994. Youth on Board is a youth-led, adult supported program where young people have the space and tools to recognize and utilize the power they hold to dismantle political and economic structures that reinforce inequity. Youth on Board co-administers the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) in partnership with the Boston Public Schools. BSAC acts as the student union of the district, leading organizing efforts, forging relationships with district and city-leaders, impacting policy change, and transforming school culture across the board.

Pa’Lante Restorative Justice Program* (Holyoke, MA): Pa’Lante’s mission is to build youth power, center student voice, and organize for policies and practices that dismantle the school to prison pipeline in Holyoke and beyond. Pa’Lante youth leaders use restorative practices and youth organizing to resolve conflicts, reduce school suspensions, decrease violence, strengthen relationships, increase equity, and build community in Holyoke Public Schools.

Students for Educational Justice* (SEJ) (New Haven, CT): Students for Educational Justice (SEJ) is a youth-led, intergenerational organizing body that drives efforts for racial and educational justice in Connecticut. SEJ envisions a just education system and an equitable society in which all people understand the history of race in the United States, and are actively committed to dismantling systemic racism and other forms of oppression.

*Denotes a returning Amplifying Youth Voice grantee

Announcing our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color and Amplifying Youth Voice grant… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Safely Resuming In-Person Schooling Requires Creativity and Flexibility

Guest Post from Noe Medina, Education Policy Research

Photo by Kate Trifo from Pexels

There has been considerable attention paid recently to the re-opening of schools in the fall. These discussions have emphasized the learning losses that students have experienced due to school closures in the spring, particularly among students who were already struggling. They cited concerns from pediatricians about delays in social development that have already occurred among younger children and could continue to grow. They talked about the impact on the economy and family finances for parents who could not get back to work without someplace safe to send their children.

All of this makes sense and provides very compelling reasons for action. What doesn’t make sense are the actions being proposed for the fall. Too much of the discussion has focused on the school buildings themselves and the mechanics of the re-opening rather than on the real purpose of these actions — to safely foster high-quality, in-person learning for all our children for as long as possible. The result has been a profound lack of creativity and a fairly narrow set of solutions, particularly in light of the resurgence of the coronavirus in so many states and communities across the country.

The problem starts with the language that is being used. Instead of talking about re-opening schools, we should be focusing on safely resuming in-person schooling in the fall and beyond. Too many people have concluded that now is not the time to restructuring schooling. Because of the pandemic, they claim that we must focus on the basics of re-opening school. That is exactly wrong. Now is time to be as creative and flexible as possible and to explore ALL options.

In thinking about safely resuming in-person schooling, communities should begin by asking the following questions:

· How can we involve other spaces in the community in addition to school buildings (such as public libraries, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and YWCAs, daycares, and museums) to provide in-person schooling to more our students more of the time each week?

· How can we enlist others in our community (including youth workers, social service providers, daycare staff, government agency employees, community volunteers, and parents) to work with teachers and other school staff to foster more in-person schooling?

· How can we use distance learning methods to support greater in-person schooling for our students rather than just isolated, at-home learning?

· How can we use this situation to foster better and more equitable schooling opportunities for all students rather than seeing the existing inequities widen, particularly for students of color?

To safely resume in-person schooling for all students in the fall and to sustain that schooling throughout the school year, we must strengthen and expand the connections and authentic cooperation between schools, community agencies, businesses, and families so that this becomes a community-wide imperative rather than just the responsibility of teachers and school districts. Federal and state governments must provide sufficient funding and practical guidance to communities to ensure that this cooperation is successful.

Early examples of these cooperative efforts have already begun to emerge. In response to the pandemic and the closing of schools, several Maine nonprofit organizations formed Community Learning for Maine in a grassroots effort to respond to these challenges. The group has grown in the last few months to include almost one hundred Maine-based organizations including nonprofits, businesses, public agencies, and higher education institutions. Drawing on the collective knowledge and creativity of these organizations, the group has provided online resources, support, and networking opportunities for students, families, and teachers during these difficult times. This has laid the groundwork for further collaboration around how to support communities and schools as they develop plans for the fall. Efforts such as Community Learning for Maine can provide both inspiration and concrete lessons for others in our region and around the country.

This WILL be hard work. It will require resources and time from many people in our communities. More important, it will require all of us, including educators, to approach schooling differently. We must accept that one size does NOT fit all. Instead, the needs of different students and the changing conditions in each community will demand flexible responses. Communities must embrace creativity as a necessity rather than a luxury. We must recognize that EVERYONE in our communities has a stake in the successful resumption of in-person schooling for students in the fall and beyond.

Noe Medina lives in Massachusetts and has dedicated his career to promoting high-quality educational services for all students, particularly those that have been traditionally underserved by the public school system.

Safely Resuming In-Person Schooling Requires Creativity and Flexibility was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.