Officials at the College School in St. Louis want all of their students – from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade – to focus on race, an effort that ties in with Witnessing Whiteness teacher training program at the “progressive” independent school.
Only about 26 percent of students at the College School identify as racial minorities, but school officials believe it’s important to highlight the racial differences between them, and to ensure white students don’t inadvertently offend their colored classmates, The St. Louis American reports.
During a recent pre-kindergarten lesson, for example, teachers went out of their way to point out that students can use a wide range of skin colors in their drawings, pointing to crayons in various shades from beige to brown.
“Equity and inclusion are key components for us here, but we also don’t have students of color in large numbers here,” Vincent Flewellyn, the school’s director of Equality and Inclusion, told the news site. “I want our faculty and staff to then understand what it must be like for those students of color to be part of a population that is not so well-represented in most spaces for them.”
College School is among a large number of schools, many of them public, that are training teachers to hone in on students’ race to educate about perceived social injustices experienced by minorities. In St. Louis, College School staff are receiving training through a program called Witnessing Whiteness that’s sponsored by YWCA and based on a book by the same name authored by Shelly Tochluk, the American reports.
About half of the school’s staff signed up for the 10-week voluntary training sessions, in part because of racial tensions sparked by riots in Ferguson in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting of a black criminal.
“I think they saw participating in this as the first step in understanding and unpacking some of their own biases about race,” Flewellen said. “As a person of color, it gets exhausting at times trying to help folks who are well-intentioned.”
College School’s director of Institutional Advancement, Jaclyn Stewart-Strothmann, said white teachers need the training sessions to understand their black students.