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Westerville Central’s Justice Activist projects discuss gaps in equity and inclusion efforts

Westerville Central’s Justice Activist projects discuss gaps in equity and inclusion efforts

The students in Kyle King’s “Race and Equity Studies: The Quest for Justice in the US” class at Westerville Central High School started the course with a deep dive on the history of systemic oppression in different communities. 

Then, King challenged students to take all the lessons they covered and apply it to their experiences in school. He urged them to think about what can be improved, where gaps exist and how they could be resolved.

On Thursday, more than a dozen students shared their Justice Activist projects with school and district leaders — including Superintendent Dr. John Kellogg, Board of Education President Rev. Vaughn Bell, Westerville Education Association President Rhonda Gilpin and WCHS Principal Tom Lanier. Their presentations offered a glimpse into the student experience in Westerville City Schools, what educators can learn from it and how they can work together to enact change. 

Students called for greater representation in the building, on the school walls and in the lessons educators teach. They outlined the importance of teaching “historical truths” and the need to include Black and LGBTQ historical figures and voices in the curriculum. They talked about “gatekeeping” and how they felt discouraged when their inquiries into taking Advanced Placement or honors courses were dismissed. 

They advocated for gender-neutral restrooms, weighed in on the negative impact on standardized testing and proposed more cultural-based classes. They suggested King’s Race and Equity Studies course be available for sophomores so they can take the lessons they’ve learned and work with administrators, teachers and peers to enact change while they are in school.

One student audited the images all over WCHS’ walls and noted a lack of student representation. As a way to be more inclusive to all students, she proposed the Brick Project — an ongoing mural where students can submit designs around the themes of equity and inclusion. School staff can choose a winning design that will be featured on a brick on the school wall, with a new design added each year. 

“The symbolism behind this project is that we’re working towards making a better, more inclusive community brick by brick,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent Paul Hopkins, Executive Director of Secondary Academic Affairs Scott Reeves, Director of Secondary Curriculum & Instruction Jennifer Knapp, Educational Equity Coordinator Cynthia DeVese were also in attendance for the students’ presentations. 

Following their presentations, students engaged with their audience, starting off with a question for Dr. Kellogg: “What are you doing to help enact change?”

He shared how the district is building an infrastructure for change through the development of 10 key targets in its equity work, the creation of district- and school-wide equity teams and implicit bias training that will be required for all staff starting next school year.

Knapp addressed some of the curricula concerns students shared and the work already underway to include more diverse perspectives and “historical truths” in history courses for grades 6-12. In response to a student who raised concerns about the content in math classes, she talked about a new Mathematical Reasoning course developed with Ohio State that takes a more practical approach to math.

We can always do better and your voices are so imperative in helping us do the work,” she said. “Keep talking, keep pushing us, keep checking in. We need your voices and we’re better because of it.”

District leaders were inspired by the students’ presentations and plan to include excerpts from their videos in district training as well as share them with other leaders in the district and school board members. And they encouraged students to sign up for Advanced Placement classes. 

Lanier said he plans to share what he learned from students with the school’s equity team and with teachers.

“Change takes a little bit of time,” he said. “If you look at where you started and where we are now, we’re different. We are moving to a better place and we will continue to do that.” 

Bell told students that their presentations were important as they provided a perspective he doesn’t quite have as a board member.

“When you speak up and let your voice be heard, that’s critical. That’s how change happens.”

  • Equity
  • Westerville Central High School
  • Westerville City Schools

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