Fresno Unified working to combat social justice issues in schools

Thursday, March 2, 2023
Fresno Unified working to combat social justice issues
Fresno Unified School District is taking action to breakdown harmful cultures within the school district.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno Unified School District is taking action to breakdown harmful cultures within the school district.

"A lot of times, teachers are like, 'I want to have these conversations but I don't have the tools and strategies on how to navigate those critical conversation in the classroom,'' explained Lisa Mitchell, the director of African American Academic Acceleration.

The Fresno Unified School District has a solution to that problem.

Throughout the rest of the school year, teachers and staff within the district are taking part in a district-led social justice lecture series.

It's supposed to provide tools and strategies on how to bring conversations and issues of social justice into the classroom setting.

Manzanita Ayers is a teacher at Terronez Middle School.

She attended two out of the eight series sessions and tells me the training is a transparent and safe space that has helped her with tough encounters with her students from various backgrounds.

"Everything that has gone on in our nation with race and different topics regarding social justice, as educators if we don't tackle it, if we don't see where we need to come up, then how can we empower the next generation," said Ayers.

Last May, students staged a walk-out in silence after a photo, that caused backlash, surfaced on social media.

Since then, Superintendent Nelson has pledged to push cultural sensitivity training.

Teachers and staff have been going though cultural proficiency training since the fall of 2018, receiving 8 hours of training over a one year span.

Now, the district is contracted with Attorney Mark Harris to lead a Social Justice Lecture Series.

"The type of events that occur are numerous and they are painful for our community. So to have Mark who comes highly regarded as an attorney in this area and speaks to the power of law - come help us support to how our communities are going to react to these incidences and what are the legal imports to these things - it's really helpful," said Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson.

On Wednesday, the district held one of the series with special guest.

Curtis "Wall Street" Carrol, known for his TED Talk on learning how to read and trade stocks in prison.

Harris, who' is also a former investment banker and UC MERCED professor -- says the heart of the community is the education of the youth-

So, his series provides strategies to help students navigate life with a lens of equity and fairness.

"I don't care if you are African American, Latino, Latina, if you are AAPI, if you are indigenous, if you are LGBTQIA+, if you are disabled or able-bodied. We slip into the easy, which is to segregate ourselves and to discriminate against those who we don't perceive to be like us - we are more alike than dissimilar," said Mark T. Harris, Esq., Attorney at Law and DEIA Advocate.

The next series is March 15th

The district says they offer longer, in-depth training for those seeking to have deeper understandings.