Features Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 1

Equity Training at Las Lomas

by Riley Martin

Graphic by Savannah West

Las Lomas, alongside other schools in the AUHSD, put on mandatory racial equity training sessions that took place during the students’ cohort academy time. Dr. Watson, an equity consultant of the AUHSD said, “As we talked about creating these lessons, the intent was that the initial round of racial equity lessons would provide a very entry- level foundation of knowledge and understanding of race,—not racism, just the social construct of race.”

The goal of the training was to immerse the students and staff into beneficial exercises regarding racial awareness. However, according to a poll on the Las Lomas Page instagram, the majority of students found the sessions non-beneficial and believe there is room for improvement. Three students who shared this opinion were sophomore Madeline Abellera, junior Moxie Marsh, and senior Kyla Watkins. Abellera learned new concepts and was glad to see such a head-on conversation about race take place, but she still had concerns. She said, “I feel like [race] was talked about enough, but I feel like too much of the sessions involved the teacher talking and the students didn’t have a lot of opportunities to talk about their personal opinions and experiences.” Marsh believes another approach can be taken that could amplify this racial education. She said, “I think if we had another guest speaker; like Lori Watson at the diversity summit, or a BIPOC alumni come in to talk about their experiences that would have been more beneficial.” Watkins was not surprised that the school took action, but surprised with the simple approach behind it. She said, “It [the timeline students created about how race has impacted our lives] defeats the purpose of creating a healthy conversation about race when we’re simply journaling down our anger. We need to have a discussion in which we bring topics within the sphere of race to the table.” She continued, “Changing the focus of the conversation from personal experience to a collective conversation would better help their situation.”

The Page also interviewed three teachers who led equity training sessions: Emma Stansbury, a science teacher, Lauren Fitterer, an art teacher, and Paolo Maloles, an English teacher. Stansbury and Maloles spoke about their concerns as a teacher before any of the training took place. Stansbury said, “Some concerns I have had as a teacher regarding race is how to appropriately deal with situations that arise in the classroom. Whatever the situation, I want to be able to teach my students appropriate conduct, empathy, and compassion.” Maloles said, “My concerns about racial awareness at Las Lomas are deeply rooted in my experiences here. My initial interactions with the community honestly made me feel as if Las Lomas (and maybe Walnut Creek at large) is really yearning for a diversity of perspectives not easily found inside its bubble.”

During the actual lessons Stansbury noticed how much more difficult the lessons were due to the online learning environment. She said, “You can’t read body language so I don’t know if students were bored, uncomfortable, nervous… I truly think if it was in person I might have been able to drive a more thoughtful conversation.” Similarly, Fitterer said, “Our large group discussions have been more quiet, but I believe this has more to do with a need to build community and comfortability in having discussions.”

Maloles believes the sessions are necessary, even if they are in baby steps. He said, “Showing them that there are teachers who are not alumni of Las Lomas who grew up in different environmental, social, and economic contexts that have an objective perspective of race and equity outside of Walnut Creek goes a long way in opening a world that exists outside of everything they have experienced their entire lives.” To provide even greater perspective to students, Maloles said, “We need to discuss the equity needs of people from all marginalized communities.”

Although many students gave feedback that the sessions could’ve been better, Dr. Watson noted that, “…this is something brand new to the district, unprecedented, and we aren’t going to be perfect in it. We are going to make mistakes and learn from them and get better and better each time…It is going to take all of us working together to create the change for a better, more equitable school district and a better, more equitable world.”