I am most thankful for how America to Me (ATM) shows the magnificent ways a wide-ranging set of instructional practices, commonly called Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), enrich the learning and achievement of OPRF high school students. As an advocate for racial equity at OPRF, I am encouraged and believe this type of teaching is becoming more widely practiced by our many racially and culturally conscious teachers.

Key elements of culturally responsive teaching include:

 teachers who are caring, demanding, and emotionally supportive

 high status content and skills tied to students’ emotional, personal and community lives

 teaching that embraces students’ cultural and racial identities while developing understanding and respect for diverse identities and cultures of others

 imbedding learning with the critical skills of political and social empowerment 

 sponsoring assessments that are discipline rich, authentically meaningful, worth doing and worth remembering.

CRT is most apparent in humanities-oriented classrooms. Yet such practices can also take place in science classrooms as teacher Aaron Podolner strives to do. In fact, they can happen school-wide as with the recent freshman one-book summer reading of All American Boys — a novel focused on how a white boy and his multiracial community confront a police murder of a black student.

In one of the most sublime scenes in the series, CRT is illustrated in Terrance’s beautifully designed art portfolio. For months instructor Melinda Novotny nurtures Terrance Moore’s growth as an artist. He quietly thrives on her skilled coaching and care until he triumphantly finds a connection, purpose and authentic application of his artistic imagination and skill in designing his personal clothing line. 

In her film-making class with John Condne, Jada Buford applies disciplined social inquiry into racial beliefs at OPRF. We are captivated by her bold film-making as she immerses us and her classmates in the deeply contentious and socially relevant issues of racial consciousness.

We watch teacher Paul Noble share Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me with Kendale McCoy — seizing on the exact moment Kendale was ready to see his life experiences and hopes affirmed while enduring and overcoming the racial oppression African-American youth face on a daily basis.

Teacher Tyrone Williams instinctively connects historical themes of social justice to the current political and social realities of students’ lives. He sees his students’ talent in transformative ways as he guides them in learning the skills of critical dialogue. We are locked in and moved as Williams poignantly supports and praises Jada’s film-making focused on the culturally and politically relevant issues of colorism and white students’ use of the n-word.

At the beginning, center and later episodes of ATM, with heightened intensity, teachers Peter Kahn, Adam Levin, and Anthony Clark and their students model the power of CRT in their poetry and hip hop clubs. Students sharpen their language expertise, writing, speaking and dancing in emotionally connected and culturally centered ways that lift both their spirits and intellects.

Throughout our 10-hour sojourn at OPRF we see teacher Jessica Stovall nurture a caring, engaged, safe and empowered community of learners. She makes conscious efforts to embrace student diversity and teach for and about equity. Students read and analyze racially historical texts like the writings of Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois. They are personally moved while learning the civic, analytical and dialogical skills vital to democratic living and social justice.

In the best practice of CRT, Stovall fully understands that learning is not preparation for some distant future where students’ social and personal well-being are secured. She knows these ends and the means to reach them can’t wait — they must be at the center of student learning today.

In all of these examples of culturally responsive teaching, we are moved and we ask, “Why not more?”

John Duffy is an Oak Park resident, and founder and chairperson of the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education. 

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