DANVERS — Donning face masks and sitting six feet apart on the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School football field on Friday, conversation bubbled among faculty and staff as familiar tunes including Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” bopped over the speakers.
It was the first time faculty and staff have had an opportunity to safely gather, all in one place, since the school closed due to COVID-19 in March. Friday marked the culmination of two weeks of professional training and educational opportunities for faculty and staff in preparation for the school year, during which time groups were separated in different rooms on campus and participated virtually.
All 250 Essex Tech faculty and staff members gathered for a presentation lead by Dr. Adolph Brown, an educator, author and clinical psychologist who speaks to educators and students about topics including equity and diversity.
Essex Tech serves students from 53 diverse communities, and in recent years has sought out ways to promote and foster equity.
“I’m so thankful we were able to finally all come together on Friday, safely, to listen to Dr. Brown speak about his experiences with race and equity,” Superintendent Riccio said. “It was a perfect way to set the tone as the school year begins, and to meet students where they are, especially with all of the challenges our communities have faced in the wake of COVID-19.”
Essex Tech is pursuing a hybrid teaching model this fall, and a new student orientation event is being held on Tuesday, to be followed by the first day of school on Wednesday. To read the district’s full reopening plan, click here.
During his presentation, Brown urged educators “not to judge a book by its cover,” discussing how implicit bias is something everyone has and needs to both understand and confront. He encouraged educators to acknowledge the hardships they carry and that often the most powerful growth is done on one’s own, through reflection. Brown also discussed the importance of meeting students where they are, as students will have different “starting points” based on various factors of their lives, and the duty educators have to recognize this and give students an equitable education to support them in successfully reaching their goals.
He spoke to the powerful influence the educators in his life had, and how, because of them, even though he grew up in poverty he was ultimately able to achieve his goals, becoming a tenured professor at the age of 29.
Brown also discussed the importance of prioritizing one’s own social emotional wellbeing as an educator, as taking care of oneself will enable educators to be able to fully show up and support students.
“Time has a way of going on regardless of how we use it,” Brown said. “So I would tell everyone, if I had another two minutes, to take their time, but don’t waste their time. I really do think people hold their breath waiting for things to pass.”
He encouraged educators during his presentation to continue having “fun” and being joyful, even in the face of the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Dr. Brown did an excellent job of breaking down the role of an educator and our duty to fully look within ourselves to acknowledge implicit bias and how we can recognize what students need in order for them to be served equitably by their teachers, programs, school and district,” Principal Shannon Donnelly said. “He threaded together many different aspects of life that play a role in race and equity, including mental health and the individual, providing a ‘big picture’ understanding of the subject.”
Initially, administrators had planned for Brown to speak to students and staff last spring, but the event was postponed because of COVID-19. Later this school year, the District is tentatively planning to bring Brown back to speak with students as well as parents and guardians.
The District has hired an equity coach to support its work to identify ways to better serve all of its students, and has made changes to its curriculum to promote equity as well.
“Our students come from a range of backgrounds, and we feel strongly that it is imperative we each do everything we can to ensure every student here has an equitable experience and feels included, valued, and recognized,” Superintendent Riccio said.