Equity-Focused Resources Available to Schools

EquityImage by Jonathan Rolande

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is reminding school communities of the resources available to evaluate and strengthen equitable practices.

Since COVID-19 created a worldwide shutdown of many regular activities, Pennsylvanians have experienced an increase in frustration, anxiety, depression, isolation, and other stressors. With the expansion of political protests and health and safety precautions, there has been an increase in hate and violent crimes in Pennsylvania. This kind of behavior is not acceptable in any fashion and is counterproductive to the nation’s healing process. Conversations and action associated with equity and inclusion in our schools is necessary and must be ongoing to ensure students feel safe in all learning environments.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion remain priorities for PDE, and our Office for Safe Schools offers a collection of resources to ensure students have the opportunity to learn free from fear, harassment, and discrimination,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “The complex discourse around equity is important to broaden perspectives and find feasible solutions to conflict to shape school communities for years to come.”

In September, PDE launched the Equitable Practices Hub a collection of web resources, journal articles, videos, assessments, and other tools that promote intentional equity in school communities. The resources represent best practices, models, and guidance across topics including academic equity, disciplinary equity, and the role of different partners in improving equity in educational communities. The curated collection of resources is organized for use by individuals, classrooms, and schools or entire districts.

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In addition, PDE offers an Equity and Inclusion Toolkit to guide schools as they create and sustain cultures of inclusiveness – places where students feel safe, respected, and welcome. The toolkit was developed to help advance efforts at the state and local levels to create and maintain supportive settings that celebrate diversity and teach students the importance of respect for self and others. This resource was developed in collaboration with other state agencies, organizations, and partners, and focuses on strategies and actions that schools can take to address bias and discrimination in a proactive and effective manner.

Dr. Nikole Hollins-Sims, Special Advisor on Equity to PDE, reiterated the importance of accessing and using these resources to support equity and inclusion across school communities.

“There has not been a more appropriate time than now to provide our educational systems with tools and resources to ensure we are promoting safe, welcoming, and inclusive learning environments,” said Hollins-Sims. “The Equitable Practices Hub along with the Equity & Inclusion Toolkit were specifically designed to ensure administrators, educational staff, and communities are able to begin and sustain their equity journey to meet students at this moment. The goal of equitable practices is to offer students a brave space for important dialogue, shared learning and sense of belonging.”

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We must also remember the importance of mental health and wellness right now. There is an abundance of emotions being felt across the commonwealth, and expressing those emotions in a safe, productive manner can lead to healing.

“It is important to remember that not only are adults stressed and feeling big emotions, but so are our students. Supporting our students in having conversations about their feelings and helping them learn skills to address those emotions is an important function for our school communities. One way to cope with stress is to ensure we are expressing our stress and emotions in a safe, inclusive environment,” said Mental Health/AOD Specialist for the Office for Safe Schools at PDE Dr. Dana Milakovic. “Joining together to build safe, inclusive learning environments can build relationships that allow healing to happen, as well as support vulnerable individuals within our community and schools. The goal of the resources provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education is to equip educators, school communities, and families with tools to support their healing journey as individuals and organizations.”

It is important to know that it is possible to discuss these topics in a healthy way that advances dialogue and positive solutions. PDE reminds school communities that a carefully curated collection of resources and tools is available to help individuals and organizations combat stress, create positive learning climates, talk to children about the pandemic, and much more. In addition, the website provides contact information for various support services that can provide help 24/7.

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As part of a larger roadmap for school communities, PDE developed a Staff and Student Wellness Guide that serves as a toolkit that offers resources to consider when determining methods of communication with stakeholders, universal practices to address social and emotional needs, and supporting identified staff and students demonstrating needs related to social-emotional and psychological supports. For youth, families, and educators seeking Self-Care Resources, PDE also has information available.

For more information about Pennsylvania’s education policies and programs please visit the Department of Education’s website.

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