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"I Shouldn't Have to Go Through This at a Young Age": MUSD Looks to Launch Student-Led Anti-Racism Effort as Students of Color Share Painful Experiences
$200,000 anti-bias grant would go toward three-year program to engage junior high and high school students in combating racism on district campuses; county encourages COVID shots
Martinez Unified School District officials appear poised to launch an innovative student-led effort to address racism on campuses.
“It is a three-year program designed not to just engage students in conversations about race but to empower and mobilize them as catalysts for change,” said the district’s coordinator of educational services, Yadira Zapata, in presenting the Student-led Anti-Racism Movement (SLAM!) program to the Board of Trustees on Sept. 11.
Zapata shared data and anecdotes from students themselves underscoring the lack of connection many of them feel at school and painful experiences around race. She read aloud several statements from students of color, including this from a seventh grader:
For me to be a young black woman, I feel I shouldn’t have to go through this at a young age, but as I walk around this school every day, I hear racial slurs come out of people’s mouths.
The district’s student representative to the school board echoed the comments that were read aloud at the meeting in voicing support for the program, which would be funded through a $200,000 anti-bias grant the district has received from the California Department of Education to continue its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
“As a student voice and as a minority voice, as a Latina, I can definitely attest that I feel the same thing as the seventh and sixth graders,” she said, referencing the student statements read by Zapata. “I feel like I am being stared at most of the time and I feel outed, and I think it’s important to bring attention to this problem, especially in our community.”
The student experiences shared at the meeting coincided with data from the California Healthy Kids Survey showing that only 41% of district 11th graders perceived school as very safe or safe, or felt a sense of school connectedness.
Zapata said that she had recently visited with county education officials to discuss the broader issue, and learned that “across the board,” fewer seventh graders are reporting positive experiences at school.
“More and more students are feeling less connected at the seventh grade level,” she said.
The SLAM program is envisioned to include between 60 and 100 students at the junior high school and high school levels, Zapata said. It was developed and would be facilitated by Lori Watson, who has worked with the district on equity and diversity efforts the past three years — an initiative that district leaders launched in 2020 amid the national reckoning over race that coincided with the Black Lives Matters protests in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Among the district’s core goals for providing positive learning environments is to foster “anti-racist and social justice policies and procedures to ensure all students have access to resources and opportunities available within MUSD.”
The SLAM program is broken into three parts (listening, articulating and working) spread over three years, Zapata explained, and will consist of full- and half-day seminars, coaching and consulting sessions, and intercession meetings and work facilitated by advisers.
“The beauty of Martinez is all of our junior high students go into one high school, and so the thread will be able to continue,” Zapata said. The goal, at the end of the third year, is to empower students “to influence positive change, both at our school sites and ideally beyond as well.”
She said district officials chose SLAM because it was student-centered, whereas many other programs they considered focused primarily on trainings for adults.
In response to a question from Trustee Carlos Melendez about what “deliverables” she anticipated the program to yield, Zapata said, “Because a lot of it is going to be driven by the students, I can’t say what are the deliverables right now because a lot of these are going to come from the student voice and building that out.”
Melendez also asked, “How do we prevent this from becoming an echo chamber?”
Alhambra High School Principal Kesha Emmendorfer responded that Watson had provided the district with the names of schools locally she has worked with on SLAM.
“We have some people digging in, talking with principals,” Emmendorfer said. “How did you do these things? What’s worked for you? What are some pitfalls that we need to try to avoid? Those are the discussions we’re having right now as we’re preparing for this.”
Trustees Tania Brugger and Anne Horack Martin asked how well the program would work if many more, or fewer, than the 60 to 100 students envisioned signed up to take part. “There’s a really big difference in cost per student if we only have 30 versus if we have 200,” said Horack Martin, adding that she hoped staff could try to gain a better sense of student interest before the contract comes back for approval on Sept. 25.
In response to a question from Brugger about whether the program could accommodate as many as 200 students if that many applied, Zapata said that based on her conversations with Watson, there would be flexibility to adjust the number of students involved up or down and still make it successful.
The student board representative predicted that student interest in the program would be high. “I also feel like this is a really good opportunity at Alhambra. I feel like you will have a really good number of students joining,” she said.
An overview of the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan and the SLAM program can be found at this link: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=36030321&AID=588967&MID=24263
The Sept. 11 board meeting can be viewed by clicking below:
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County issues COVID update
In a news release issued Tuesday, Contra Costa County Health Services (CCH) recommended that all residents ages 6 months and older get the new COVID-19 vaccine that will soon be available from health care providers.
“This COVID-19 vaccine is updated to be effective against variants of the virus that our residents are most likely to encounter this winter, the same way that flu vaccine is updated annually,” county Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli said. “The older COVID vaccines do not protect against current strains. We really recommend the new vaccine for everyone, but particularly for those who are older or medically vulnerable.”
Unlike the original vaccine push during the pandemic, the county won’t be operating dedicated vaccination clinics open to any resident; rather, residents will typically need to approach getting this new COVID vaccine much the way they do annual flu shots, by coordinating directly with their health care providers or others who accept their insurance coverage. Contra Costa Health will provide the vaccine “primarily to Contra Costa Health Plan members, Medi-Cal and Medicare recipients that it serves, and people who do not have health insurance.”
Given that COVID and other viruses typically grow more prevalent in the fall and winter, CCH also issued a new health order requiring “workers at certain medical facilities to wear well-fitting face masks while on the job, from Nov. 1 to April 30 annually.” According to CCH:
In Contra Costa, the order applies to workers at acute-care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes, and high-risk outpatient settings such as dialysis and infusion centers. The order does not apply to patients or visitors.
Safe storage ordinance moves forward
Contra Costa County supervisors granted preliminary approval Tuesday to a new firearm safe storage ordinance that would require all residents of unincorporated areas of the county to keep firearms stored in a locked container or disabled with a firearm safety device when not in a person’s immediate control. The vote was 4-0 (Supervisor Diane Burgis was absent). The ordinance comes back to the Board of Supervisors for final adoption on Oct. 3.
City looks to fill commission vacancies
The city of Martinez has openings on the Veterans and Planning commissions. The Planning Commission opening is for an alternate. For more information on the positions and how to apply, go to https://bit.ly/3jMCWHQ or call 1-925-372-3510.