Two members of KIPP Indy’s Emerging Leaders Fellowship, our highly competitive teacher leadership development program, kindergarten teachers Bri Aikens and Lorena Stevenson, are refining our reading curriculum through a culturally responsive lens. In this month’s Staff Spotlight, Bri and Lorena share what motivated them to pursue this project and the initial impact their project is having on students’ academic engagement and results.
Tell us about your Emerging Leaders project.
BA: Our EL project aims to make sure our reading curriculum is anti-racist, meaning that our children see themselves through the text and are learning about other cultures in their texts as well.
LS: Rather than centering one racial background or socio-economic status, we are making sure the curriculum showcases many different types of people.
What motivated you both to pursue this project?
LS: I was motivated to pursue this project because growing up my mom and grandparents were very intentional about what Barbies or books I had. My books had people who looked like me, while others also taught me about other people and cultures. Their intentionality stuck with me. And now, as our student demographics have shifted at KIPP Indy, we wanted to make sure our students all had representation in their learning. I want our students to say, “Oh I see myself in this character. Oh I see my friend in that character.” By including people from many different backgrounds in their reading texts, we are able to teach students early about people who are different than themselves and how to develop self-love.
BA: Previously to this project, our reading texts really only had one racial background in the characters. We believe our students deserve to see themselves in the text and others who are different than them. We were finding that we had to substitute texts to make sure our students saw themselves. So we decided that the curriculum we have now needed to change.
What’s the goal of your project this year?
BA: Our goal is to make sure the reading curriculum we are using now has windows and mirrors for our students. We want to make sure our students have a rich curriculum that is inclusive and centers several different races and cultures.
LS: We are focusing on the K-2 reading curriculums this year. So that next school year, all K-2 students can transition to this new curriculum. In the next school year, we will begin to work on the reading curriculum in grades 3-5.
What data are you collecting to demonstrate the curricula’s impact?
LS: Our students demonstrated a 40 percent increase in participation and 28 percent increase in mastery of the main topic when learning from a culturally relevant text. We’ve seen students are engaged more and comprehending more when they engage with culturally relevant texts. I’m really excited to see how these changes impact the academic results in other grade levels.
What advice would you give to other schools who are working to develop or implement a culturally responsive curriculum?
BA: I would suggest for others to first identify what their need is. Take a look at your curriculum now and then see how you can improve the curriculum to be more representative of all the things our students are and who we want them to be.
LS: It has been critical to have the support of our administration and other teachers. It’s been a blessing to have the support of our admin and fellow teachers who really wanted to see these changes made to our curriculum. AND- have fun! We have loved ordering the new books and discussing them with each other. We have found joy in making these improvements to our curriculum and that excitement comes through when we are teaching the lessons to our students.